failure journal

Again this month I tried NaNoWriMo (which I stubbornly refuse to say out loud as that cumbersome abbreviation), and again I blew it. I made a spreadsheet to average my words and watched the red below-average cells envelop the green above-average ones like a losing game of Minesweeper, until after a week of no writing on my so-called novel draft I abandoned the spreadsheet to languish alongside those daily drafts in my Dropbox. At the same time, though, I wrote other things. I finished the story of my chapbook by writing this guest post for a blog I’ve enjoyed since I met its proprietor and learned of it last month.

Since writing some poems I have tried to think of myself as a poet or a writer or some other legitimate word. As part of that self-labeling project I’ve been reading so much about writing and reading: online, at Harriet and the Paris Review and Recommended Reading and Wave Books and so on, so much. On real pages in real life (which is still a separate category, in my mind, from reading on a screen), I have been reading Heroines.

Last night, reading that book, I started revisiting the place that failure has in my feminism. Because here is a thesis, in Heroines: the man as artist is excused and expected to be a huge fuckup, a drunk, cruel, all in service of his genius. The woman is expected to be raw material for this genius, docile and perfect, but any move she makes to express herself is dangerous madness, and then she must be protected from herself. (A charming internet term I’ve learned for this protection of someone against something when they’re fully capable of caring for themselves: “concern trolling.”) And no one is trying to throw me in the madhouse, but then again I am too afraid of failing to try most things too hard. Or to put myself in what I make too thoroughly: it was easier to write as a Horse_ebooks-human hybrid than as me. That way, anywhere I failed, there’d be shared responsibility; when I succeeded, it was because people love this strange spam oracle, not little elliptical snippets of free verse. That was the narrative I had.

Here’s where that got knotted up into my feminism, though: I started asking myself why I am so afraid to make mistakes, to be a fuckup, to express things, to work in public, to work hard. I think it’s because I’ve always indirectly heard that it isn’t needed or isn’t serious to talk about yourself, and especially so for a woman. That all the insights we need are already canonized in things I could read. This is the eroding effect of being mansplained to, and it gets into my vocabulary: I ended this sentence with “I guess” before I took it out. I’m clawing my way to being less self-effacing.

I’m remembering another book I read this year, another part of this take-myself-a-little-seriously-as-someone-who-writes project: How Should a Person Be? I recognized myself and my dear friends who write in it, and the men who explain things to us. (I wrote the only review I’ve written on Goodreads about that stuff.) Reading these two books, too, I noticed how I internalize these messages: I resisted their self-indulgence, then remembered I’ve read plenty of novels even more excessive in that quality, by men, called great books.

So always renewing this drive for trying; trying to let it become a habit so I don’t feel like a con artist when I call myself a poet. Always half-failing; looking for the strength to make something of the failure.