Watching Yourself Fail

It’s a horrible thing.

The thing you think about when you’re trying to calmly drink your coffee and watch The West Wing, and you realise you’ll never, ever, be as awesome as C.J. Cregg. You’ll be lucky to be 5% as awesome in your entire life as C.J. Cregg.

The thing you think about when you’re about to pay for something in a shop, and the assistant asks you “How are you today?” and you open your mouth to reply and say “Fine, good, yes, ” but your brain is capslocking I JUST SUCK I’M SO SORRY PLEASE HELP because it’s had a little flashback to that horrible thing.

Failing.

It’s such a strange word these days, is failing. It can be epic, comedic, brave, brilliant, and pitiful. But the real failure happens in the mind of the failee, the repeat-play, the billions of interconnected, miserable strands of story that weave and knot themselves into that one awful moment where you look around you and realise that you are, right here, right now, not just not doing what you’d hoped to be doing, not just not projecting who you wanted to be, but that you are actually, inside and out, not the person you thought you were.

At worst, you don’t think you’re going to fail. You don’t do anything you know, 100%, is going to fail. And if you do, it’s so something else will succeed. No, you do things – write a book, ask someone out, pitch your dreams, get dressed in the morning – either without hope or agenda because you must, because it’s Tuesday, because you can, or you do them to get somewhere. Learn something, Be something. Move forwards.

I’ve spent ten years of my life thinking I was moving forwards in a very specific sense. I did it because I could. I did it because I was learning. It was hard. I didn’t earn any money. I did have a lot of time. Time to read and write and learn, and to earn what little I could from strange, strange side projects that came and went like the tide, leaving me washed up and exhausted, but glad to have seen the sea (metaphors are weirder in the morning, huh?).

It didn’t work out. It hasn’t worked out for years. I should’ve seen it. Should’ve called it. You can start to see those strands here, in these words. Thoughts and regrets and misery and panic, if I’d done this back in 2007, if I knew what I know now, if I’d tried harder with this, taken that trip, gone for that job…it’s all in there.

It’s taken about nine months (as so many things do) to kick out of that amassed failure. To take steps to move, to try again, to go, as it happens, home, and as that happens, to my childhood home, which is not the cute east wing of our sprawling Surrey mansion, no, it’s my crammed, dusty, 5ft 8″ square old room, and I’m 5ft 8.5″ so, yeah, and yes, I’m an only child so I have ~issues and entitlement and massive, massive privilege in a certain sense, because hell, it’s just me, and my parents are amazing, wonderful people. But, a hideous situation because it just doesn’t work. My parents are old, they’re settled for the first time in their lives, they’re pretty happy, which they weren’t when I was growing up. I am actively spoiling everything they worked for, everything they’ve struggled for. I never wanted to be this…selfish. It’s why I left home at 18, it’s why I didn’t come back any of the times things were at their worst, it’s why I wake up every morning swimming in my own failure, and it’s why there’s a huge clock ticking in my brain every moment I’m here, get. out. get. on. keep. moving. it’s pretty tiring.

I was supposed to be great. Not objectively. Probably at something. I have attributes. I have odd attributes, sure, but there are things I am brilliant at. They’re strange things. Planning. Strategising. Criticising. Advising. I can be wicked enthusiastic, driven, dedicated. I can see things, fix things, think not just outside the box, but outside the whole sodding system. I can’t sell myself though, much as this paragraph might look like I’m trying to.

I had a job interview last week. I used to be so damn good at job interviews. I loved interviews. I got every job I applied for, for years, whether I wanted it or not, whether I should’ve got it or not. I was just so sure that I would be worthwhile. I could convince anyone to take a chance on me.

So last week I sat there and tried to answer standard questions and all I could see whilst I was doing it was a murky flood of misery and anger and missed years and missed opportunities and I was not prepared, not at all, for all those feelings. I watched myself fail to get a job I’m not, tbh, sure I ought to have had, because I couldn’t do what I used to be so good at doing, pulling myself together and being honest and explaining why I could do things and being right about that. I started out that interview thinking of myself as well-dressed and bright and full of possibility, like someone who was in control of themselves and was going somewhere, was taking the right steps…and I finished up with a bright smile and a handshake on the outside, as my insides dived into a bucket of woe.

I look at the last ten years and I can brightside it wonderfully, I can, I’ve been incredibly fortunate in so many ways and I am grateful, I am, but I don’t compare. It’s not that I envy my friends’ careers (although I do, from time to time, whilst acknowledging that I could never accomplish them myself), but that I have so much mess going on here, I don’t know how to explain it, I don’t know how to…get rid of it so that I can get on. I don’t know who or what I turned into, but it is not the girl I wanted to be. So I tried to take the leap. I jumped off a high thing, and I’m in mid-air, trying to straighten everything out at once, trying to find/make money so I can try to find/make space to find/make myself.

The failing keeps repeating around my brain, kicking my heart and pulling on my nerves, stamping on my chest and whispering in the middle of nothing, are you really this stupid? I am.

I did a lot of things for a long time for the right reasons, and I have come out of that time in one piece, yes, just about, but I left something behind and I need it back.

I am here, at home, trying again not because it is my only option, but because it is everything, everything I want. I am trying to make Plan A work, from nothing. I started with Plan C, went onto Plan B, and they were all pretty grim in the long run so here I am, going for Plan A, following my heart, doing all I can to bend this tiny corner of the universe into the shape I really, desperately want it to be. I have lived more of my life for other people than I can even convey or admit to almost anyone, and for the last month I have been working incredibly hard on the inside to live some of it back for myself.

This was supposed to be a vague blog, more non-disclosure, something that didn’t look so very, very typical and grim, and yes, I’m still vague on the important details, the things that make me into a whole story and not a miserable statistic because I have to be, because they’re not my details, but they are the explanation. I don’t look good from the outside.

The failure, though, the flashbacks and circularity of falling feelings, the web of missing parts and the way I never went for the things I needed, that doesn’t look good from the inside, either.

On the plus side, I can’t give up. It’s all too far in, now, and what I want, what I could have, with the confluence of just a couple of other things, with just a few more hours, days, weeks of trying, writing, working, being better, trying harder, digging up all the dirt inside myself and throwing it behind me, it’s too good. I know what my prize looks like. As much as the failure is pawing all around me, the carrot of dreams (yep, yep) is shiny and bright and just there, right there, so close.

So here’s hoping that in the next interview, the next transaction with another human, the next chance I get to move forwards, I am better prepared to be myself. It is much, much more pleasant to watch yourself succeed.

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Woman: Why Does It Always Feel Like I’m Being One Wrong?

I follow and am friends with a lot of very wise and interesting women, most of whom have lengthy and strong opinions on many of the issues that crop up, both on and offline, which tax, penalise and threaten women around the world in various ways. I concede that a lot of my understanding of many of these issues comes from their commentary, from secondhand understanding of these issues, and from reading heightened and removed discussion and debate of them.

This is partly because I don’t spend a great deal of time ‘in the real world’. I am fortunate enough to have not experienced many of the issues that allegedly affect ‘all women’, to the extent that, many a time, I’ve wondered what’s wrong with me, ‘as a woman’, that I’ve not been sexually harrassed – although that’s nearly another post than this. My strongest experience of sexism is really that mentioned in another post here (I’m Sorry You’re Upset, and Other Ways to Patronise a Colleague) and for this, I’m grateful.

I am one of those women that finds it very difficult to call themselves a feminist, but then, I don’t like to call myself anything if I can possibly avoid it. I don’t enjoy the wealth of labels attached to gender or sexuality, and I like the consistency of my existence to be within me, rather than with a load of badges I’ve chosen to wear. Indeed, the struggle I’ve had with terming myself ‘a writer’ has shown me, in a much more pleasant and curious way, how unsure I am about saying that I am anything at all.

To be a feminist, to me, implies action, activity. Motion towards fixing a specific issue. I am not fixing anything. I will talk about things, but I probably won’t fight about them if I don’t think I can change the mind of the person arguing with me. I don’t have the experiences or understanding to campaign for anything much without people telling me I don’t count, and I find the reception to the majority of campaigns virtually sets the clock back every time. People always bring up the suffragettes at this point in any dialogue about the rights of women, and yes, I do love my right to vote, but that’s one right, just one, in one hundred years. That doesn’t mean they aren’t relevant, but I don’t think Emmeline Pankhurst is a flag to wave to end every conversation about whether or not protest works, any more than I enjoy a placatary response to a fuss about the most peculiar state of affairs that was the lack of any women on UK currency.

It feels like there’s a pattern of fuss, now. And just that, too – fuss. Or, worse, ‘outrage’. Real issues being lost in a sea of Tweeted capslock and summarised in Guardian articles and by on-the-pulse bloggers, everyone vying for the most pointed thing. And all it looks like, more and more, to all the people that you desperately wish would listen is one great extended coffee morning, or dessert round of the dinner party, where ‘the women’ get together and make a fuss about something and look at their husbands and say, “See, darling?” and they say, “Yes yes, quite…” and go off to have a cigar in the drawing room.

Don’t mistake me here – I’m all for the comments, the articles, the conversation, and, as I said at the beginning, that’s how I get most of my education on these things…but when you look at the way that the critical mass is received by those it’s aimed at, it is so quickly reduced to insignificance, or pasted over with misunderstanding platitudes, that it’s no better than an angry scrawl of A4 taped to a lamppost in the rain. It doesn’t matter how well you wrote it – people appear to have already decided what they think, as soon as they read words like ‘feminist’, ‘women’s rights’ etc.

And it isn’t just the men dismissing women I mean, either. Women dismissing each other, women feeling completely lost when it comes to things like ‘fourth wave feminism’, women who don’t have a full grounding in the history of society in every country going being completely dismissed, women who’ve only just had the lightning bolt of “Instead of saying to the victim, you shouldn’t have worn that, why not say to the rapist, you shouldn’t have done that?” put forward to them floundering with the realisation that they, too, have been a huge part of the problem without even realising it, women who haven’t 100% decided if they’re women or not wondering where/if they fit in, or even care…

…the thing is, men don’t have to be all the same. Men don’t have to hold a single set of beliefs, or act in a set way because of their gender identification. They don’t have to explain when they get angry, and if they get angry in a reasonably literate way, people will probably listen to, and engage with them without shouting back or dismissing them because they haven’t ticked xyz boxes with their life/heritage/experiences.

Groups of women dismiss other groups of women with mass vehemence and unpleasantry, and are surprised when they receive the same treatment. Women who take a stand and suggest a solution, a plan of action, a campaign, are often villified by other women for not having done it right, for not solving everything for everyone at once, for not representing ‘women’ right.

Maybe we stop expecting all women to represent all other women. It’d be nice to look at each thing in itself, regardless of its originator, without profiling to the end of the world and back the woman who ‘dared’ to take a stand. It is shocking, disgusting, and all the terrible things that women who, by virtue of being female, attract the levels of abuse seen publicly over the last week, and it is excellent that the law was adhered to and, hopefully, has an effect, but the mass of noise around the outcome of this situation looks so very much like nothing learned, one step forwards, two back, talking about the process and not the problem, spending so long in outrage and being so frustrated that you can’t even work out where in this horribly tangled screw-up of society to start unpicking the problems. Women who’ve picked up a thread and tried to do something, with the sum total of their experiences and understanding, find themselves slated because it wasn’t the ‘right’ thing, because goodness, loud woman who thinks she’s all that, don’t you know that you should just shut up and stop making us all look bad, omg, remember that time you said this and this and you’re such a terrible woman, etc…

…the amount of time spent shouting and criticising and reporting on the shouting and criticism of women by other women, and the whole sorry lot of it being either gently patronised, completely disregarded, or out-and-out slammed by everyone else just doesn’t seem to move the conversation forwards, to expand understanding, or to get much done. Either we get half-arsed quick fixes that don’t do anything or come from enlightenment, or we tie that knotty mass of issues even tighter.

Worst of all, and, I think, the point I want to make, the pattern of issue-awareness-outrage-attempted solution-personal attacks-next issue feels so familiar, so regular, that it starts to look the same, to become too much, to be too easy to disregard because we saw it last week.

I don’t think this post is particularly eloquent or sensible, and I worry it doesn’t make a lot of the points I wanted to set out clear, but, I think, one of the things I want to say is that I don’t want the fear of not being the 100% Perfect Woman for all other women to stop me from at least trying to get some of my knotted mass of issues out of my head and into the world, because, when so much of what you see and read around you is about something that everyone thinks ought to also pertain to you ‘as a woman’, it’s difficult when you don’t understand it, don’t have a view on it, or can’t find the point of it. I realise I’ve started a lot here and worked through very little, but maybe I’ll make this a starting point and come back to it in future.

The thing I think I’ll end with is, I see nearly everyone’s point, and I wish equality was normal, but it isn’t, so where’s the beginning of the thread? Where’s the starting point where all women are the same? Is there one? And if there isn’t, can we all stop looking for it and try solving the issues we can solve, or give our own experiences to, without having to sign up for an agenda, or to represent everything and every woman?

A Catalogue of My Excuses

I am very much the kind of human that makes excuses, qualifications and clarifications before everything. I serve a meal and warn that it might not be okay because the peppers are a fortnight old or because I got all wrapped up in Wittertainment and forgot to stir for a while or because it’s Tuesday and salt has new kinds of chemical reaction to courgette on Tuesdays, or whatever, not because I want to be blameless, but rather the opposite – I want you to know that if my food happens to suck, I already know why and am sorry for that but have made the decision to serve it to you anyway.

This is very much the feeling I’m having about the self-publishing thing (aiming for Sunday, if you’re curious for a timeframe). I know there are rather epic flaws and fails within this book, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want you to read it. I hope there aren’t major, serious inconsistencies. I seriously, desperately hope there aren’t any typos or spelling mistakes. I am doing my very best to remove any words that don’t need to be there.

That’s the thing, really. I’m doing my very best. I need that to be good enough.

There has been a time at which I’ve really wanted to go through ‘traditional’ avenues, but, thinking about it in every possible way of late, I’ve realised I don’t think of self-published books as being any less of a book at all, and therefore why wait? This isn’t a book I think will sell millions. I hope, I really hope there’s someone somewhere out there with whom it resonates, somehow: that’d be more than enough, and a happy success. I want to see what I can do with what and who I already have, without paying anyone to give me their version of it, without having someone else chop it about or tell me I must.

It’s an odd book. The pacing is not perfect. Or even good, perhaps. I love things that unravel. I love things that come together at the end. I love endings. I love to know what happened. Why it happened. How. I want to answer questions, and leave space for imaginings. I want to bundle a spider’s web together and make it into a really smooth, neat ball of complexity.

I’m embarrassed to say how hard I’ve been trying, how much I want this to be a legitimate, worthwhile read. But it doesn’t have to be that for everyone. It isn’t everyone’s kind of thing. This is why I don’t know how to sell it, or explain it. I don’t want to tell you the story on the cover: that’s what reading’s for. But blurbs are important for a lot of people, so it seems, and, well, you only need to look at the kind of rating system the internet enjoys on its recreational reading to see that people don’t like to be surprised by certain kinds of content.

So, those excuses.

– I wrote a book I wanted to read. Specifically, just what I wanted. There’s no reason it should correlate with what anyone else wants to read, but, then again, a lot of people love things I love just like I love them, so there’s no reason it shouldn’t either.

– It starts with a dream. Apparently this is the worst possible most cliche narrow-minded atrocious thing one can do with a YA novel. I shan’t start another novel like that. But that is, regardless, where this novel begins, and I’m not going to change that.

– Speaking of cliche, I don’t think anyone looks at themselves in the mirror for a long while, but there’s a good chance they do. I don’t think that’s the worst thing either. I look at myself in the mirror every day. And think about what I see.

– I don’t really mind being a cliche. I don’t mind if you can’t finish it. I kind of need to say that. It’s okay if you don’t like my things. That’s interesting too.

– I don’t think this is a big thing for anyone that isn’t me. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 48 hours contemplating things like being British and worrying/wondering what people think of who you are and what you do because, damnit, the opinions of people you love and respect are important. I’ve wavered multiple times over the sentence “I’m a writer” or “I’m trying to become a writer” because there seem to be so many implications beyond “I am a purveyor of word collections” there. Regardless of whether there legitimately are or aren’t, I feel them.

– I intend to write a lot of books. Books vary in quality. I want to write a lot of different things, a lot of different styles. I want to improve. I don’t want – at this point – to sculpt and shape what I’m doing into a format. I want to start by being honest about where I am and what I can do alone.

– The beginning of my book is stilted and wonky. But at the beginning, my characters are stilted and wonky. I’m trying to look at this as us all learning together, and I think there’s something nice in that. But I wonder if readers will be so forgiving? Should they have to be? No, absolutely not. Hmm.

– I suppose what I’m saying is, I want you to know that I’m both terrified of people thinking I’m getting above myself by putting what I’m doing into the world the way I’ve made it, and wishing that I could say, I’m a writer and have 100% of the people I say that to find that a tangible and applicable description.