Tag Archives: failure


One day when we were sitting in the kitchen of his mother’s house, B handed me a bag of his mother’s rings.  “You should try these on.  See if any of them fit.  My mom doesn’t want them anymore.”

I went through the bag one by one, trying different things on.  There was one, an old leather ring with a peace sign engraved on the top, that I fell in love with.  “I like this one.”  I slipped it on my finger with ease.  He told me to keep it.

I didn’t take it off until he replaced it a little over a week later with a diamond engagement ring.  When I had planned for the time I’d get married, I imagined it would be forever.  I didn’t know how wrong, how stupid, I was.


I live my life best when I have plans.  

My favorite thing at the moment are the syllabi I have for my courses this semester; they are like miniature datebooks by which I can plan my entire life.  They are broken down by class period, with the required readings and various other course assignments under their certain days.  For instance, I know that I have two papers coming due.  I also know that I have to write discussion questions every Tuesday for two of my classes, and that I have meetings on Mondays and Tuesdays for the magazine.  Because these things are certain, I can plan for them.  They are always the same.

It freaks me out when I can’t plan for things.  While I approve wholeheartedly of opportunities to incorporate new experiences into my person, I also feel the need to run from them because they are new.  Because they are unknown.  Because I cannot plan.  


I clutched my phone in my hand, reading the email that had been forwarded to me:  Maybe you’re thinking that Sara saying she wants to go back to school/college is a sign of progress?  Sara has “said” she was going back to school at least three other times, and this makes the fourth.  She is terrified of going back to school because she is afraid of “failing.”

College acceptance.  Email.  College acceptance.  Email.

I chose to listen to the acceptance letter.  I didn’t feel like my ex OR his mother deserved to have any power over me, but I didn’t know if I could be a person without him.

I went to campus the week before my classes started so that I could find all the rooms.  I made a map in my head so that I could get easily from class to class on time.  And then I started college—and I didn’t fail.

The first big paper that I wrote was a paper on Beowulf.  The day I got it back, I was terrified I had failed.  I couldn’t look up as the professor walked the room passing things back; I focused my gaze on the sneakers of the person across the circle from me.  D slowly made her way around the classroom, handing back the first paper she had assigned, graded and commented upon.  My dissection of Beowulf for this assignment had been a struggle; professors in my other classes had never cared this much about papers.  I could see the F now every time I closed my eyes.  Big, bold, and red.  Something brushed my elbow and I looked down.  My paper.


I had gotten a 92.

My face must have portrayed my shock, because D began to laugh.  “You have the best facial expressions,” she cracked.  “But seriously though, you’re awesome.  And this is good.  You just need to be more confident.  Believe in yourself.”

That was the moment where I first realized I was better than him.


In self-defense class, they teach you to aim for the crotch or the eyes when you are grabbed from behind.  But all the training in the world can’t prepare you for a knife against your throat.  I was the top of my class, but when it happened I still felt woefully unprepared.  

I froze.  I hadn’t planned for this experience.  Stupid.

After, I made lists.  Lists for my day; lists that told me the times I would complete all of the activities that I needed to get done.  I hadn’t planned for the before, but I could plan for the after.  I could protect myself.


You’ve been accepted to read your Creative non-fiction work at the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention.  Please respond by the 21st as to whether or not you are available and what piece(s) you will be reading.  

I read the email once.  Twice.  I thought about declining yet again.  But I didn’t.  I said yes.  Another new experience.


I can’t plan for this.  What if there’s a stranger who sits next to me that reminds me of him?  What if there’s a topic I don’t like and I can’t find an exit from the room?  What if I get lost?  What if something happens?  What if I fail?  Does that mean I’m not good enough?  Does it mean that I’m that same person he thought I was?  That same stupid girl who got herself hurt?

What if, really, I’m always her?  That horrible girl who fails?


“You are not horrible, and you know this, sometimes.  So hang onto that for your presentation.”  I focused on those words.  Not horrible.  Not a failure.  Words mean something to me, and I’ve heard a lot of them this week.  I absorb them.  I absorb the belief that others have in me.  I let it change me.  




I make plans.  Connections.  A safety.  And then lists.  

I breathe.  

I’m not stupid.  I won’t fail.

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Plan B (On Rejection)

The first A minus I ever got in an English class broke me.  I was in eighth grade.  I wrote a twenty-two page story called “Searching for Becca Fischer.”  My teacher faulted it for the little things; she thought that some of the characterizations went too quickly.  At the time, I cried.  I had spent a long time on that story.  I felt like I really knew who Becca was, like she was a part of me.  I still think about her sometimes; she was the first character of mine I really identified with.  So when I saw the A minus, my black and white brain interpreted it as a failure because I was so connected to the work.  I thought that, in rejecting Becca, my teacher was rejecting me.  I reread the story last night when I couldn’t sleep, and I realize now that my teacher was right.  The characterization is weak in places.  There’s a lot that I could do with the piece now that I’m a better writer.  But at the time, I was so connected to my work that all I saw was the failure that wasn’t even a failure at all.  It was an A minus.  A bloody A minus.  But it was a rejection all the same.

Fast forward fifteen years to court and my (now) ex’s stupid face.  After all the things we went through, the end was sudden.  Jarring.  It wasn’t the same sort of rejection, but it was a definite lack of acceptance.  Over the course of our marriage, he invalidated everything that I thought I was.  I tried to change for him, but I was never good enough.  I never made the cut in his eyes.  I could never be who he wanted me to be.  I had ten years of my life between high school and college that feel like a waste, like time that went by and has left me nothing but older.  

I got my first graduate school rejection yesterday, and it brought me right back to that day in my eighth grade classroom, right back to all the time spent in court.  I cried a little.  Ate froyo.  And then spent most of today being sad.  Because a large part of me feels like a failure.  I know that it’s only one rejection.  I know I still have seven schools out there, pondering my future for me.  But I’m still really bummed for a wide myriad of reasons.  One—it was a school I REALLY liked, and they didn’t like me back.  Two—it feels like my entire life is on hold because I can no longer plan for my future.  Three—it feels like I wasn’t good enough.  I talked to a professor today who pointed out to me (or maybe this came from my mouth) that the graduate school application process is really like a lottery.  A bunch of little balls get loaded into a bingo-like cage and some big-wig pulls them out and calls a number.  That number gets in.  The hundreds (thousands?) that don’t get drawn just stay in the little cage.  It paints a stark reality, this rejection letter I received.  A reality where my future is incredibly uncertain, a reality where I have worked my ass off but might still not get in anywhere, because my number might not be called.  I have done all of the right things, taken all the right courses, kept my grades up, become a TA, tutored, edited at the magazine…and I might not be right.  I might not fit.  That reality is very much in the forefront of my brain now, because I am accustomed to not getting what I want.  I have worked my ass off and it might all be for nothing.  There might not be an MFA in my future.  I might not be a writer.  That is so, so scary.

I think that, over the last year, I have put a good 99 percent of my eggs in the graduate school basket—and I’m scared now because I worry I put my hope into the wrong thing.  I had a gaping wound that I needed to fill and I filled it with this whole graduate school process.  What happens if that process doesn’t come to be?  Will I start to hemorrhage again?  Will I lose my place?  Did I fill myself with the wrong thing?  Is it possible I won’t be a writer?  I have carved an identity for myself within academia and this plan that I have made to go to graduate school.  I will have to reshape it if I don’t get in.  It seems like I am always reshaping.  I want to be the cause of that reshaping, just once.  I want to prove to myself that I can be successful without him.  In my head, I’ve made graduate school equivalent to success.  Now I’m worried I will be lost. 

I feel like I need to make plans, somehow.  But without knowing where I will be next year, that’s hard. So, I’ve come up with an awesomely outrageous Plan B.  (The first of many, probably, since I have time to ponder before more letters come, but a plan I really like.)  I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  Really, I won’t have anything to lose—it would be the perfect time to do it.  I don’t have kids or a family.  I don’t have any stuff.  I just have me.  And it would be nice to wander into the wilderness for that length of time and just…be.  I’ve read all of Cheryl Strayed’s books:  Torch, Wild, and Tiny, Beautiful Things.  Her writing is amazing.  Yup, she was pretty dumb to wander into a hike of that magnitude with little training.  Yup, she was very lucky to survive.  But she did.  And not ONLY did she survive, she wrote a book about it.  And that book is amazing.  That book is the story of a woman who figured out how to conquer her shit because she grappled with it and won.  She beat her shit.  I want to beat mine. 

I will start with the tattoo:  “How wild it was, to let it be.”   

How I finish will be up to the graduate school application lottery.

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There is a voice inside my head that tells me that I’m not good enough.

That came from you.

Do more.

Work harder.

Be better.

You will never be good enough.

It’s funny really.  I’m not sure where it started.  Was it that day that I made the spaghetti?  That day that I worked for thirteen hours setting up fake ghosts and tombstones, that day that I came home and put the water on and the noodles in and then fell asleep on the couch?  The day that you just let them boil dry because “cooking was a woman’s job?”  When you woke me up by dumping the noodles on me?  Was that the first time?

You can’t even do what you’re supposed to do.

I waited all day for supper, and you messed up.  

A good wife wouldn’t fall asleep.

Or was it the day I got fired?  The day that I lost my job because the company had been bought out by foreign men who had no interest in a white female manager?  The day that I came home terrified to tell you because I knew you would think I was a failure?

You must be incompetent.  

Smart people don’t get fired.

You know I can’t work; I have a degree, I have to do this.

Was it the day that I wanted to turn the heat up because I was cold, and you told me no?  The day that you said I needed to make more and work more than I already was if I wanted to have the right to adjust the temperature?

You will never get a degree; you will never go to school.

You will never be anything at all.

You belong here, doing what you’re doing.

Or was it the day I forgot the Oreos for the Oreo dessert?  The day that you made me go back to the store?  Was it that day?

I can’t believe you’re so stupid.  

You need to go back; I certainly can’t.

This has to be perfect, and it just isn’t—you aren’t.

Was it any day?

I am sitting on the couch now, staring into space, a space that you used to occupy.  And I hear your voice inside my head.  It’s been a great couple of days, so it’s funny that I would hear you now.  But there you are.

You touch me with your eyes, your fingers.

I can feel you on me, smell your breath-garlic.

I can feel you.

And I hate you.

But since you’re here.

I have something to say to you.

Screw.  You.

You made me feel like I wasn’t good enough.  Like nothing I could ever do would be okay.  Like nothing I could ever say would make you happy.  You made me feel like I was a failure.  But I am not a failure.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  I have done more.  I have worked harder than you could ever understand.  I am better.  I am so much better than you.

And I cannot keep renting the space in my head to you.

This has to end.

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