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Lions Roar : November 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2011 37 to do what you want to do, is related to wanting, into which we are born, and to the abundance that comes from limitation. Some other definitions of failure include: a cessation of proper functioning; the condition or fact of not achieving one’s desired ends; the condition or fact of being insufficient or falling short; the act of failing a test; an American rock band of critical acclaim in the 1990s; and a song by the alternative rock band Sevendust re- leased in 2006. There are dozens more songs themed on failure, but one titled “Insight to Fail- ure” from the hardcore band Harp And Lyre out of Oklahoma City contains these striking lyrics, which present the idea of failure as a herald of self-betrayal: Awake! I’ve been sleeping I’ve been restless and reckless I’ve jeopardized my viability This is not me! This is not me! I’ve come up from the grave and met you face to face Awake! Awake! I’m awake!” An unpopular topic in mainstream American culture, failure is a theme reflected upon creatively by alternative rock bands and honored by great poets. “Failure, background language from a more demanding space / it’s difficult to read between your lines,” w rites Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas in the poem Fracaso—“Failure”—which is an im- passioned ode thanking failure for not giving him another life, for having limited him, for having used a rough sponge to clean him off. “You don’t exist,” he declares to failure, “you’ve been made up out of delirious pride.” Fail is what we mostly do—even if mostly gradu- ally and repeatedly rather than massively, and even if—as Cadenas claims—it is made up and doesn’t exist. But thinking as this poet did about how fail- ure is both an obstacle and an intimate companion, how it both burns and saves, and how it both does and does not exist, is not what we mostly do. Sing- ing about how it wakes us up to our truest self is not what we usually do either. But I don’t want to talk about how “Every suc- cess is the result of a series of failures,” as Thomas Edison said, or how every failure teaches a lesson. It is not my intention to talk about small failures, which are easily thought of as “for the best.” I don’t want to talk about the invention of the light bulb. I want to talk about crushing, scathing failures that break the world as we know it into a thousand pieces. Even if failure does not exist, I want to talk about how it feels like death and how it makes it seem impossible to be who you thought you were. Even if failure doesn’t exist, I will tell you of a fail- ure that knocked two hearts to the ground. Mine and my husband’s. “I AM JUNK,” he said. “Okay,” I answered. When someone believes they are a failure, it’s best not to argue. It probably will not help to remind them that failure doesn’t exist and might, if they let it, escort them inward to the germ of their existence. I wasn’t being flip, I just knew he was too heavy a package for me to keep afloat. My husband wanted to be a paramedic, but the struggle as he made his sleep-deprived, red-eyed way through two years of English as a Second Language, Eng- lish 101 and 102, chemistry, anatomy, psychology, biology, and pathophysiology, had been monumental. I’ve heard that when a per- son reads Chinese, parts of the brain light up on a PET scan that do not light up when they read English alphabeti- cal combinations. Different neural pathways are used to process pictographic characters than are used to process alphabetical combinations. The degree of activity shows up in terms of the colors of the rainbow, with red and yellow indicating where there is more blood flow and oxygen, and blue and black indicating not much happening. So having to switch languages at age forty-four must have been sort of like having a stroke for my husband. He had to dress in the dark and stumble across the uncharted realms of the cerebral cor- tex, stomping down blue-black weeds and pull- ing on blue-black vines. I had hoped the thready pathways would meet with the old surefire ones and create a familiar clearing in the middle of this strange land, but after ten years, this mythi- cal place eluded. Just the evening before, my husband had taken a final exam at the community college. He got a headache trying to decide if the answer was a, a&b, b&c, d, none of the above, or all of the above. Af- terwards, he chanced upon the teacher in the meat Creation stories always start with serious failures. The first attempts came out too angelic or too demonic. By trial and error, people were failed into being.