Two Approaches to Failure

[Okay, not really failure. Let's say, 'Two Approaches to Small, But Not Insignificant (To Me), Setbacks.' Not to be complicated, or anything.]

So, last week I met with two small, but not insignificant (to me), setbacks. My response to each was very different, and since then I have been mulling over, not so much the setbacks, but my responses to them. One setback was a rejection from a local online journal; I had sent a few poems that the poetry editor said were "not quite perfect" for them. The other setback involved a boy, age 8, who has forgotten to bring home his homework approximately umpteen times this year, and proceeded to forget it again every day last week.

In response to the rejection (which all writers are used to, but which no writer enjoys) I thought: Bummer. But, okay, "not quite perfect." I sent a short commiseration e-mail to my friend and faithful reader, The Poet A.O.D. Then I went to the bookstore and bought a copy of Poets&Writers and the December issue of Poetry. These purchases said to me and to the world: Right, I am still here. I am still working. I am looking for more opportunities for submissions. I am learning from other poets I read. I am working on the next poem, and the next poem, and the next. Which I then proceeded to do, and it is called The Purchase of a Buryingplace (read Genesis lately?).

In response to the boy, age 8, forgetful as the day is long: First, I sat down with him and we agreed that yes, he is forgetful (he said it first!). Then we problem-solved. We talked strategy: sticky notes, signs on desks and lockers, visualization. We expressed confidence in said boy's ability to learn the skills to cope with forgetfulness. We talked about how change takes time. We decided to start right now with a sticky note taped to his homework folder, reading: "HOMEWORK." (Okay, so far we are doing pretty well here, but this was my Mama Bear response for the benefit of the boy).

NEXT, I wallowed in guilt. I groaned. I fretted. I sighed. I wracked my brain, wondering where I had gone so wrong that the child can't remember his homework. I wondered what his teachers were thinking of me, thought surely they were murmuring about how I hadn't taught him to be responsible. I wondered if he would ever learn to remember anything without me reminding him. How would he cope in middle school or high school? How would he ever get into college? I was sure he would forget to apply. Who would ever want to marry this man, who forgets everything? What would his future wife think of me, his mother, who obviously failed to teach him responsibility? She, too, would be murmuring against me. How would he hold down a job? Would he ever forgive me when, one day, as he must, he realized how terribly forgetful and irresponsible he really was?

After a good, solid morning of torturing myself, it dawned on me that a mini-failure in my life as a mother was having a very different effect on me than a mini-failure in my writing life had, despite the fact that both areas of my life are vitally important to me. I realized that I was taking the hair shirt approach to parenting setbacks a little too far. I resolved to try my writerly approach the next time I meet with a parenting setback:

1. Bummer (admit it, it is)
2. Oh well.
3. Reach out, connect, learn.
4. Keep working, girl, keep working!

Once again, I am Learning Things from being a writer. It's the vocation that keeps on giving. For that, I'm grateful.

1 comment:

CitricSugar said...

Only a writer could imagine so far into the future about the consequences of forgotten homework. He's eight. He'll forget to brush his teeth, when bedtime is and where he left his dress shoes. Eight-year-olds remember promises of dessert at dinner, that Sunday night there will be popcorn, and the joke the other eight-year-old told him that was soooooo funny grown-ups can't understand it. Different priorities.

Same with the journal. They have different priorities. And your poetry is absolutely perfect for someone else. I adore your work and your two-approach view on things. I shall try to approach more things with the lemon-to-lemonade attitude.