Failure's Room

Yeah that's right. Failure. I flew to Chicago last week to see The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neill at The Goodman Theatre. I have never been to Chicago before. I LOVED IT. But what got me there was failure. Ah Failure.

I often think that the reason I have stayed in the theatre has everything to do with failure. And of course I am trying to figure out why, or how, this is so. One of the plays that spoke to me in whispers as to what my life might be was: Long Days Journey Into Night (Also by O'Neill). This play revealed to me the character of men and women and turned the lights on brightly inside Failure's room.

There are certain moments when I am reminded that noone actually knows anything. And it is my contention that great feats of art or wisdom or compassion are required to make this very simple point clear. Noone actually knows anything. But most of the time I live with the delusion that there are those among you who actually know. And this is profoundly troubling and at times a debilitating affectation. Because none of us know anything and it is only our collective agreements that lead us to believe that "we" do or that if "we don't" then "they do". And the big gift of this week was Robert Falls production of The Iceman Cometh because it reminded me again of this: that noone knows anything. And it turned the lights on bright in Failure's room again. And damned if this O'Neill won't end up being another stopping point along the path of why I continue to roil around in theatre.

856 sold out seats. 17 actors. 5 hours. 4 acts. 3 intermissions. 

Oh Canada can you imagine? (But this is beside the point)

The point is failure and how O'Neill understood -  far better than I  - what it is and how it can be valued. Not just as a cautionary tale, nor as a terrific teacher, nor as a place from which to flee...Nope. O'Neill understands it as the place where we live. We live in failure. 

I did not go to see this piece because of my interest in failure. I went because of my interest in the writer, the production, the actors and the city. And yet, writing this now, I see that while I might not have recognized failure as the thing that drew me there it was the only thing that could have.

Chicago of today was born of extraordinary events toward the end of the 19th century. In 1871 a song was being written that I can still sing every word of today: "late last night while we were all in bed, Old Mother Leary lit a lantern in the shed and when the cow kicked it over she winked her eye and said there'll be a hot time in the old town tonight fire FiRe FIRE!" This was taught to me at summer camp on the shores of Eagle Lake, north of Kingston, Ontario. It was a super fun song to sing because of the build in the fire FiRe FIRE! So exciting! And then to find out last week that there actually was a Mrs. Leary who actually was blamed for seting Chicago alight in 1871. Pretty hard to blame one person when even the roads of Chicago were made out of wood! But Mrs. Leary took the rap and we got the song and Chicago got a future! So take a few letters out of FAILURE and you can end up with a raging FIRE. And this is what happened. And this is also why Chicago has become the extraordinary wind (and fire) resistant city that it has. Does this make it failure resistant now too? I doubt it. But not just because nothing can resist failure - especially if it is where we actually live -  but even more impressively precarious... is that Chicago itself is built on stilts! There isn't even any real solid ground to support what appears to be this absolute vision of solididty and strength. So this city knows about failure. It is built on it. Chicago knows where it lives and it loves it. And by Gum, so do I!

So I take apart the word and I see "fire" living within in it. And I see too that it contains "lure".  So like the "flea" -  that it also contains -  I see that the word itself has lured me  - yet again -  to its fire. Ah Failure!
The Iceman Cometh. 10 men and 3 women living a life of possibility found at the bottom of Manhattan at the bottom of a glass. That's 13, and an unlucky number. Poor sods. But for the grace of god. Nowhere for them to go except into their reveries. And then there are 2 men, both filled with quivers of truth, ready to take aim with the clarity of their vision. Well dressed, "better thans". Better than anyone of those poor sods. People on the way up and out. People that we look to for the answers. People who obviously know something that "we don't". In this case murderers. In many cases so...And then there are 2 cops. Because there are always cops. That is how we know for sure that we live in failure.

Cutting to the chase, and make it whiskey as cheap as you've got, the iceman always cometh and when he gets there you will recognize him for the shadow of the thing that flitted out of sight as you brushed your teeth this morning, or as you flip open that next self-help book that is promising the thing that everyone knows cannot be provided. BUT WHO CARES. It is the feeling of home, of possibility, of "maybe someday" that sustains us. And as we get older it is also the feeling of all that shone so boldly on that sunny day when everything was just perfect in the world. But for now? Well for now we know that the Iceman will always show up. Because he never left. And there is as much to disturb me as there is to comfort me in this.

I have never travelled so far just to see a show before. It was beyond worth it. I am indebted to Robert Falls for making this happen. And to Eugene O'Neill for understanding something I work very hard not to get. Even though I purport to want to know as much about it as I am able.


The Grand Failure
It has been over three months since I have posted anything to this site. Too much has happened, maybe too many opportunities for a more deeply rooted discussion of failure. Missed opportunities feel appropriate to a "me" who is as much intrigued as led by failure....When I began to sculpt an idea of failure, one that I could hold as well as look at, I was a different person. Literally. In the intervening months I have become a motherless child. And been invited into the club where all of us motherless kids hang out. And it is one instance where Groucho's maxim about clubs is completely innacurate. I have never been more grateful that such a club exists, and that an invitation to join was extended in my direction. In fact were I to hear Groucho crackin' it wise now... I would likely think: "joke fail".

And this upside down response to clubs in general is connected to how it feels to lose a parent in the specific. And more pertinently how it affects my own investigations surrounding failure. In the face of The Grand Failure, which is the last breath taken by a loved one, the study of "failure" in its quotidienne, mundane, day to day cloak feels as trite as it actually is. Who wants to think about failure  - in theoretical terms -  when The Grand Failure can bring a deep, profound, and impenetrable silence to the debate. The power of that Grand Failure is like nothing else. There is nothing else like the real end. Absolutely nothing. And so perhaps I have come to recognize that my interest in failure is really an interest in a rehearsal for The Grand Failure. This seems obvious and embarassing to write. Because "Of course it's about the rehearsal for the end! Of course!" But the paradox is rich. There is gold in them thar veins! Because the paradox is this:  regardless of how much failure we are able to accrue over a lifetime, (Go Team Failure Go!) in fact, in actual fact, we will all die perfectly. The circumstances of our deaths may speak to injustice, tragedy or mishap but the ACTUAL DYING gets to be done perfectly by each of us. Because we succeed. It is irrefutable. It is completely irrefutable. The real end.

My mother was a beautiful woman and remains so in my heart, mind and body. But each life is filled with all manner missed opportunity and regret and my mum was no stranger to this. But as she left this world, I was witness to a generosity, an act so filled with love, patience, empathy and courage that while I sat with The Grand Failure, I was also given the gift of kneeling at the feet of perfection.

There is grandness in failure. And perfection too.
This is just too good to pass up...

A Headmistress in England at a top all girl's school is holding a "Failure Week" to toughen the girls up...

So that is about as on the nose as you can get with Failure of the Week
Some of you may know that this past year was distinguished for me by my decision to return to school. I am currently doing my MA and am looking at Failure. The first term was marked by an incredible amount of previously unknowns making themselves known to me. This occurred both within and without the Academy.

In honour of this, I leave a poem that was sent to me by a woman I have yet to meet. She was inspired by my having a website dedicated to failure. When my friend in common told her of my site she apparently spontaneously came forth with this poem.

Fittingly it comes from a poet who I was also previously unfamiliar with:

Last night I dreamt
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from all my old failures.

-Antonio Machado

And so with this I wish you all the honeycomb each of your hearts can handle for 2012. 

Detroit. This might be better called the Failure of the Millennium. But as I happened upon it during this week, and so - solipsistically informed -  I launch into Detroit for The Failure of The Week. Dream a dream of decay. See yourself in the mirror. Imagine the fall. Detroit. Failure of my Week.

It is like the span of a life. A human's life. Or let's say - as a result of medical success - let's say a super-human life that spans 100 to 150 years. A child born out of fire. Detroit. 1805. A fire that flattened the town.

Then comes along a dreamer, a patriarch and a plan. A guy named Woodward offers up the grandest paean to the future of industry. The most beautiful woman in the world was about to get born. But before the woman, first a child, giddy with ringlets and possibility. Wide boulevards and toys and dangers and wild parties. And then the teenaged years where strikes almost stopped the exuberance. Teenagers can be such downers. 

A city that was central in the proud story of the underground railway. And this is important for a whole lot of reasons, but primarily reasons of freedom and prosperity. Glory days are days that lie ahead when the road is paved with gold and promises.

Detroit. A city that gave us the picture of our future and sadly our demise. Detroit got through its teenaged years and after the 2nd world war (where the motor city did extremely well) fully formed adults with the best taste that money can buy... lived large, lived grand, lived well, and this lady of the lake was devastating in her charms, in her humour, even the timbre of her voice, the purr of a motor car rolling off the assembly line. Fordism at its height. 

In a moment before Ford motor cars were the only thing you thought of when you heard the word Ford. In a moment before Ford started to conjure pictures of a president stumbling off a plane or celebrities getting clean. It was a different time. A different moment. Failure was lurking but success was keeping it in the shadows. Rivera showed up but even he couldn't put a dent in the never-ending party.

And then with menopause came the burnings. Devil's night in Detroit. Unemployment and Arson. Great friends. Everything hot under the collar and an hysterical flush in the cheeks. Men started leaving town. Who wants to stay with a woman perpetually on fire. A woman who squandered her dowry dancing all night long, nothing left to burn. So off you go.

But there was an up and up. There were admirers who remained and who gloried in the newness of this fading moment. (Or this is one way of telling the story at any rate) And with this moment the the long awaited redress of the racial imbalance. Black America. Detroit. Why did this have to happen when the industry left town? 

Why is it so beautiful sad there? Why does it appear to be empty? In the 1950's there were just shy of 2 million people there. Now there is something like 750,000. The vast majority of Detroit's citizens are of African American descent. There is a lot that is right about that  Except that there is no employment - or very little. And a walk down any street will tell you this same story. And what's more -  along with a lack of people -  you will notice something else too, a lack of shops. There are almost no stores in Detroit. Downtown Detroit. But there is lots and lots of parking. This old lady will set you and your wheels up nice. This old lady will give you a tumble that will remind you of how it all used to rumble. This old lady will show you what the ravages of time can do. This old lady. When you park in this town you can feel it all run through you. What a dame.

If you want to park in the most amazing place then I suggest you hie thee to Detroit. You can park inside what was once a grand - beyond grand -  theatre and you can stare up at the moulding and the archways to prove it. It is other-worldly. This beautiful woman that was. It is Detroit. it is Beautiful. It is the story of a life. Of a Human life. a super-human life. It is a story about Failure. You cannot run from it. You cannot hide from it. But you can visit it. and I suggest you do. Detroit is where it is at. The future is now. Detroit can fill you in.

We need our elders. We need to sit in the dying of the light. Fail. But for God's Sake Fail Better. Fail as though your life depended on it. Because it does.

I am not failure. Failure is not me. But this can get confusing when your identity slips over the falls-



So the story is short. My analyst dumped me this week. Well actually she dumped me 2 weeks before but I guess I needed to have the break-up meeting so I could understand this...? 

"Why dear analyst, why did you dump me?" 

As many of you probably know... the clariyfing meeting after the "break-up sentiment" has been stated... is rarely a smart idea. 
I always do it. I may even have tried analysis -  in part -  because of this being just one part of some ridiculous pattern I seem doomed to repeat. 

"Analysis, yeah, maybe, just maybe, it will help." and/or "If it doens't help maybe it will feel familiar." 

Being dumped! Bingo! Familiar!

But who knows, maybe this last spate of analysis has helped? Oddly, a year ago, I was unequivocal in my belief that psychiatry  - of any kind  - was a type of religion that needed to exit, gracefully, from its primacy in the dominion of healing. 

Where was that voice when I sat in the dumping chair?!

Anyway... Back to when I thought it would be a good idea.

Some things changed in my life. And I read the still very inspiring The Road Less Traveled and I became convinced that a re-investigation of this aforesaid "psychiatry" needed a look before rejecting it out of hand. And besides I was feeling pretty messed up. Had been for awhile and was ready - still am - to take some of my bullshit by the scruff and shake it out, look at it, learn to love it, and live with it or change it if I can. A good drill, however it gets tapped out. 

Change if you can, don't if you can't, and love whatever you can when nobody else will.

I am back seeing the therapist I saw years and years ago. This is a good thing.

It is also a circle.

Which now includes being dumped by an analyst.

It's not me. It's you, right?

i am not failure. Failure is not me.

In which case...

Analysis failed.

But The Road Less Travelled is still worth a read and a reread.
Cape Farewell officially launched in Toronto this week. The events were kicked off by a great concert headlined by Patrick Watson and the Wooden Arms and more than ably supported by Amy Millan. It was at Koerner Hall, Toronto. What an amazing space! The story of Jonah comes to mind and there we were…sitting in the belly of the whale! The sound in that cavernous place is tremendous but the attendant feeling of "how did I land inside the belly of the whale?" seemed well-matched to the odd sensation of dislocation I was feeling this night. What - after all -does a building like this mean? How am I to situate myself within its glorifications? And what is being glorified. And finally what task am I avoiding? Because why else would I have ended up in the belly of the whale?

To be clear

Koerner Hall is beautiful. By this I mean it sounds great, the seats are very comfortable and I was awestruck at its grandeur, its glass tower facade, the vision of humanity's ribs stretched out in tree-slices on the roof. I was josteld by the intentional details to human scale which aided in making me feel both lesser than and greater than… all at the same time. Now disclosure is important here…the night was fraught with multiple stories. Nothing in the world of the over 40 can be lived as a thin line. Any Toronto event is rich in conflict and these are only the ones I am able to recognize.  We are occupiers (by "we" I am referring in this instance to the Euroline of Canadian dwellers who walk the concrete slabs of Toronto without a thought to the cost of laying that concrete down. By "we" I mean "me".) Okay ENOUGH! The building was big. I felt small. The sound was great. The fit of artists to venue was uncomfortable. There is no good reason why women were not wailing and men were not gnashing their teeth during Patrick Watson's deep minor chords… save for the fact that we (OH SHIT) I mean me, could not locate ourselves within the space of the event.  And this disconnect is - I think - worth considering as I launch into why Cape Farewell, and all that it is attempting to do, and in particular with its ambitions for North America, is both a gorgeous idea and one inextricably linked to failure. Not to fail I hasten to add, this is not the same as failure.

I got to sit at the table of giants. Scientists, Economists, Curators, Entrepreneurs, Journalists, Academics, Politicians, Writers, Musicians, Architects, Ad Men and Artists. It was a heady meal filled with the sacred and the profane. A two-day conversation spearheaded by visionary David Buckland and his Canadian partner in co-curatorial crime, Claire Sykes. Together they created an avenue for a difficult conversation,  all in an attempt to bring forward startling (my adjective) artistic contributions to the ambivalence surrounding climate change. It was stimulating, harrowing, intoxicating, enervating, terrifying, depressing, delightful and incredibly thought provoking.

Did I learn things I did not know? Absolutely. The Ocean does not need our love. We need hers. History did not start with our recording of it, nor did it begin in the cave, history is so old that it can't even register that we are here (and yet history knows it is dying and so someone new - like humans - must have arrived on the scene). I learned that we may have to STOP copying natural metaphors in our system maintenance and creation. Growth may be the very thing that is killing us. It is! But it also isn't!


All things that grow die. They really do! So in economic terms - well - we are simply fulfilling the promise of the process. I recently read (Homi Bhabba for those who note such things) that the colonizing project itself might be purposefully constructed to fail. This can be read several ways but I will split it in two. In the one sense we can say the failure is conscious, man-made and done with purpose. In the other sense we can say that we live in a world with a mystery that far surpasseth our understanding of it, and that this failure may be an inexplicable part of this larger mystery. In either reasoning two things - at a minimum -  can occur: New growth or dead zones. The choice is ours.

Dead Zones were described as huge parts of the ocean where as a result of several man made issues, the living parts of the ocean eat themselves to death. Literally. The metaphor, while badly told here, strikes me as a good one for the choice that we face with how we deploy failure. New Growth is, I suggest still yet to be defined, and may forever remain in the realm of about to be defined. As such we can always look ahead to the possibility of what the next intake of breath will reveal, while knowing that its attendant exhale will bring with it the end of that idea. Failure on the way to growth. Growth on the way to failure.

Look at it or don't.

Failure is your new best friend. Count on it.

Easy to write it but hard to say it.

This week it is us. 7 Billion of us.
Just becasue you can count something doesn't mean it counts (I think I saw this on twitter but you can find more ideas about it at this blog)
Well I think it is worth counting so we can act (or not) or something.ButLaura Jacobsen, a professor of mathematics education at Radford University...“If we could count each one of the 7 billion people at a rate of one person per second, without any breaks, it would take 222 years to complete the counting,” Jacobsen said. link to site

How old will you be when you are done counting?

We appear to have been really good at making ourselves and stomping everything else that gets in the way of that essential productivity. 

Propogation of the human species. Procreation. Pro. The Oldest Profession. The business of making ourselves.

Any thoughts about what to do? Us with nothing else. This is easy to write but hard to imagine. And yet. We had better so that we can act (or not) or something.

The failure this week was all about the cat. The cat that came to me from the family that lives next door. Twinkle is the name of the cat. This name came along with the cat. She is an amazing cat. And she straddles the fence between one life being lived on one side of the fence and another being lived on the other side. The vet thinks she is a year old. She has been with me for 6 weeks now. In that time I have spent much money on her care and relied on the goodwill of my friends and family to ensure that this beautiful creature is fed, watered and scratched behind the ears. I have also begun sneezing more and my eyes itch more than they used to. I have, as well, expanded the quality of conversation between the neighbours (who I affectionately think of as the Von Trapp Family) and me. Now instead of "Hi!" we say things like "Is Twinkle over with you?" Or from them "Would you like Twinkle back now?" or "It's great! we get to play with her all day, and then she goes over there to live with you!" All true. And while I have suddenly increased my living expenses (Not insignificantly) I don't mind. It is a gift - all in all. To have a Twinke in your life. So. Where's the failure?

Vet visit. Outdoor cat. (I thought kitten) Pregnant. Oh no! She can be fixed with the addtional euphemism of adult fixing (which is to say...there are babies in her and if we proceed in this manner there will no longer be) Both the vet and I agreed about what needed to happen. Twinkle was a stray. We cannot - in good conscience - bring more kittens into the world...yada, yada. But wow - did I suddenly feel gross? Did I suddenly feel like I was being yanked into an ethical dilemma that I had  - up until this moment - managed to personally circumnavigate. WIth respect to a woman's body, I unequivocally believe in her right to choose. But what about a tiny little cat? Just hanging out in the neighbourhood. What if the neighbours hadn't found her? What if they had then never approached me to consider taking her in? There would have been a litter of little Twinkles - wouldn't there? This was a horrible feeling. I decided to go ahead. But I did feel like a failure. And this is interesting as I am  - I profess - more interested in failure as a concept or event that happens outside of feeling. And yet it would appear that, at least in this instance, it was the feeling of failure where the failure lay - not the event that gave rise to it.

On the day Twinkle was set to go to the vet, she gave birth to 3 still-born babies on the neighbours porch. The kids found her. Poor little Twinkle. So. Off we went to the vet. Nature resolving my personal crisis for the time being. And now Twinkle is free to roam all the back alleys she wishes; as she has been innoculated against all manner of outside things and fixed to keep the possibility of baby Twinkles at bay.

Animals give room to the inner "should of could of" voice. Animals -  like all those whom we love -  open us up to failure. To being a failure? Not sure. But to watching the things we "shoulda, coulda, woulda" done better... Absolutely. But then again if you are lucky enough to have a Twinkle (or any manifestation of love in your life) then they will jump on your head and purr in your ear. Regardless. So this week is about Twinkle and the failure I feel in caring for a cat.

Two men wrongfully dead. And a country in crisis.

Below is a Guardian Cartoon that was intended for the horror of Troy Davis but speaks also to my great sadness and outrage for Jaymey Rodemeyer.

The precision of this week's failure resides in the now irrefutable hypocrisy of the American Way.