Failure as Self Care
We are reminded frequently in this long pandemic — much like we are reminded by the AIDS crisis, by the Tuskegee experiments, by the weaponization of smallpox against indigenous peoples in the Americas, and uncountable other instances in history — that to control disease is not the same thing as promoting health. This is an important distinction to keep in mind as quarantine times are shortened by the Center for Disease Control, essential workers are sent back to their jobs sick and without adequate compensation or protection.
Failure can be a kind of self-care. I don’t just mean failing to accomplish a goal or get a job or a fellowship, but also failure in the sense of falling ill and failing to stay in ‘good’ health. Having recently contracted covid, both my husband and myself have been reflecting on how expansive it felt to rest. Despite masking up and being vaccinated and boosted, despite taking all the precautions in our daily lives, we still got sick in the end (albeit not as bad as it could have been, thanks to vaccinations). In the early days of our isolation when we were canceling travel plans and figuring out how to stock up on food and trying to keep apart from one another in our apartment with 1 bathroom, this felt like a failure. (The CDC seems to think many people have 1 bathroom per every member of their household.)
To stop. To not achieve. To drop the ball and watch it roll away. It isn’t a stopping of desiring those things, as it’s important, I think, to still strive and try and want our aspirations to be realized. But it is a recognition of that little voice of guilt that speaks whenever a failure occurs, that exhales and says whew. If I were to really listen to that voice, I think it would say something about aligning purpose, motivation, energy and habit toward being inside of time. But it’s not always easy knowing what will get me there. Especially not when the literary world puts forth this notion of applications and competition as the way to achieve success and fulfillment in the work. Failure is part of fulfillment, after all.
Dig deep enough into the definition and word history of ‘failure’ and you’ll find meanings in which it simply indicated something not happening. A non-happening with no negative slant implied. The older I get the more excited I am about things not happening; the more failure tells me. I’m reminded of a piece I read recently on “Attention” by Hari Kunzru, in which he also illuminates the ways in which contemporary moralists cast distraction as a personal failing, while considering focused attention a virtue. No doubt this is also reflected in The Queer Art of Failure, which I have tried and failed to read, because I found it boring.
I have been distracted and ill and a failure, and I will be again. I look forward to it.
What I’m Reading
Smoke Proofs: Essays on Literary Publishing, Printing, and Typography by Andrew Steeves. One of the perks of having been published by a small Canadian press last year is the large number of other small Canadian presses I’ve been introduced to. Gaspereau Press, based in Nova Scotia, was one of those, and after listening to publisher Andrew Steeves talk about his process and the role of a printer in today’s world in this excellent talk, I immediately went and bought his book. He touches on everything from the tyranny of CMYK to marketing to cover design:
“After all, if a publisher accepts lazy design, or flashy, trendy covers, why should we believe that their eye for, or treatment of, literary content is any more refined? If you can’t judge a book by its cover, maybe you can at least judge the quality of the publisher’s vision for our culture.”
The book itself is a work of art and intention, with a beautifully letterpressed jacket on creamy paper that’s a pleasure to hold. And if you are still trying to catch up on the books you didn’t read from last year, here’s a wonderful interview with Steeves that initially turned me on to his work.
The Rumpus is open for submissions of essays and book reviews.
Lambda Literary is hiring a Program Manager. NYC based, $58k salary w/ benefits. I highly doubt that’s enough to live on in New York, but there it is. Deadline to apply is Jan 15.