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define failure

My spectacular home students came tonight and read their marvellous stories – I’m very proud of them. One, who’s so shy that she often weeps while reading her stories, even happy ones, and has to have someone else finish them, sent a beautiful story to the Globe last week, and the editor called her one hour later to tell her it would run. Proud!

But I am not proud of myself. Even this blog has been dull and lifeless this past while, and writing here usually gives me great pleasure. I’ve had a … well, not a failure, but – well, what to call it then? A lack of success. A setback. The fact is that I am angry at myself. I am a blind, stubborn idiot and a loser. It’s okay, I’ll get over it. But I have to go through it first.

The memoir does not work as it is, and people have been telling me that for some time. Wayson told me years ago, when I first embarked, that I was focussing on the lightweight instead of the stories that mattered. I’ve heard that over and over. And today, I received a very well written and intelligent email from my blog reader, Carole – hi Carole! – whom I have never met, but who’s my age and a Beatles fan and who kindly read the memoir. And what she said was what everyone else has said: very entertaining, a good read, but want more depth.

I, the winner of the Excellence in Teaching Award 2012, I who teach my students to tell the most important story they can, have for years been writing a sweet little story about girlish fantasy. And in the end, it just doesn’t matter that much, because not enough is at stake. Just as I have told my students, a hundred, a thousand times, but not done myself.

Nothing is wasted, I know. It’s all compost. But I have spent years, years, countless hours and entire forests of trees, on material that, it turns out, not many people will want to read. And that’s hard. It does hurt. I do feel a bit crushed, foolish, misguided, self-indulgent, wrong-headed, lost.

And in a few weeks it will be the first anniversary of my mother’s death, on Christmas Day. So there’s lots of emotion roiling about anyway.

Okay. Well, nothing I can do now about all that time. That’s just what happened, time to move on – to write what I know I can write, a much more profound truth. I’m reading “This is the story of a happy marriage,” by Ann Patchett, a superb collection of essays, honest, funny, moving. It’s not fancy writing, it’s just true. I love it. I want to do that too.

So I will.

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4 Responses to “define failure”

  1. theresa says:

    Beth, I think it's never easy to release a mss. and to have to reckon with both rejection and silence. Don't give up on your memoir yet. Time often provides clarity — usually when you least expect it. So keep faith but also think of what you'd like to write next. And the time will come for that so be ready and open when it does.
    tk

  2. beth says:

    Theresa, one of the treats of writing that despairing blog post last night was knowing that kind hearts would read it. Thank you for your thoughts. I think I will do some sort of self-publishing with the memoir, and get on with other stuff, yes. At the moment, I can't look at the poor thing. But I'll get there. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

  3. Just discovering this today. Oh dear. I hope you're not giving up on this Beth. It's certainly dreadful to have to cope with rejection. The great thing about academic writing is that you know only a dozen people will be likely to read you. Even if you put your whole heart and soul into the article you don't put your whole life onto the page as you do with memoir. If an article is rejected,it's still a heart breaker, but usually easy enough to revise to get printed If you have faith in this manuscript, hang in there.

  4. beth says:

    Merci, my friend, but hanging in there is what I've been doing for years, banging that square peg into that round hole, and guess what, it never quite fits. So it's DONE. I will probably publish it on-line or in some format, because it's ready to go and people have enjoyed reading it, with all its flaws. I will do some kind of storytelling event with some of the material, and the rest … I will incorporate into the book I will now start to write. Life goes on. It's not illness, it's not tragedy, it's a lot of time spent on something that did not come out as planned. If that's the worst that happens, I'll be a lucky woman.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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