Sunday, September 30, 2007

An open letter.

Dear fear of failure and rejection,

Last night, while I was still feeling lonely, before I talked first to one friend and then to another (and before I had the utterly enviable pleasure of dancing with a gleeful four-month-old and her awesome father by way of the videochatting magic that is Skype), I read an exceptional set of instructions about how to bid farewell to old fears. And though I am about to go on another long walk through a countryside that (but for the sound of the M11, which will be omnipresent for this one) will indeed afford me bits of beauty and remind me that it's safe to be honest, I will not be alone on my walk, and I don't yet know my companion well enough to perform any visible rituals in his presence. And so, in the minutes before I depart, camera in hand, to see what there is to see between here and a neighboring village, I'm going to write you a break-up letter.

I don't know when you arrived to take up residence in every corner of my life. I know that it must have been before the very thought of getting a B+ in math on my first term's report card in sixth grade was enough to throw me into a panic. I suspect that it was even before I got detention for not having been able to finish my multiplication worksheet in fifth grade, just because my first-generation Bic mechanical pencil ran out of lead and it didn't occur to me to have a spare or to raise my hand and ask my teacher for a new pencil. Thus, it was definitely before an idiot 15-year-old football player came over to the house one Friday night, giddy at his team's having won a championship game, and wouldn't leave--until his parents called, near 1 a.m., to see if he was at our house, getting me in the most (and most self-abasing) trouble I'd been in for years, even though (I now see very clearly) I had not done a single thing wrong.

It must also have been long before the piano competition I flubbed in seventh grade, the first year I'd competed in the intermediate level of that particular contest; my teacher suggested a late-breaking change to my program, tacking on a tempestuous piece that, when performed correctly, was stormy and wonderful to be channeling--but, when performed incorrectly, was an utter disaster. Remember how the first piece went fine, and how the first performance of the potentially problematic piece also went fine? Remember, then, how two of us had to have a second-round sudden-death play-off--and how that time, the second piece refused to come through these fingers? Remember? Of course you do: it was one of the times that you fattened up, growing stronger on the belief that you were right. Because I let you.

I could keep listing: the times my social skills grades were Bs in elementary school because I couldn't hold myself back from talking with my classmates; the time that college boyfriend told me, right before breaking up with me, that no one asked me to social events because they knew I was anti-social and would say no. The time I didn't get the job. The time I felt as though I knew no one where I lived.

But I'm done. You've been wrong so many times in the past few years--and, in fact, throughout my life--that I'm done with you now. I know that you're coming around to pay a visit this weekend because I have important work to do tomorrow. I even know that you think you're coming around because you think you're making things easier for me, keeping me from falling on my face, bloodying my nose, scraping my knees, twisting my ankles, cracking my fingerbones, cudgelling my brains. But this is what I realized while I was reading that post last night: I don't have to hate you for having plagued me for three decades. I don't have to recoil against you in anger or in further fear. I can say thank you for what you've tried to do, for the ways you've tried, with decent intentions, to keep me from trying something frightening or from daring my heart and my mind again. I can also say that I'm grateful, to whatever powers oversee us, that you've somehow almost always failed in your interventions: I have, in fact, kept daring, started daring even more of late. And then, having made my peace, I can say goodbye to you.

Because, see, a wise woman told me something smarter than you, my old fear, you who wish you could call yourself my true familiar. "People who can risk rejection," she told me briskly one day on her office's ridiculous couch, "have more interesting lives than those who can't, or won't."

She was right.

So, thank you, fear of failure and rejection, for having tried to protect me, but I don't need you anymore. There's better beauty afoot, out there where you are not.

Dr. S

p.s. Actually, after a day of long walks and deep thought, I've decided that what I really meant to say earlier is fuck off. Now get the hell out of here.


Blogger Habiter avec l'intention said...

Wow. This is quite powerful.

A very, very wise woman once told me something, too. When I feared doing something she wrote to me, "You're doing an important thing, and you're eminently qualified to do it." I believed her, and all was well. You should believe her, too! ;)

Just after that, she told me, "I'm proud of you." I think that I can speak for many, many people when I say that we're proud of you for being where you are and doing what you're doing. And also for just being you.

8:29 AM, September 30, 2007  
Blogger Dr. S said...

Well, thanks, sweetie.

10:50 AM, September 30, 2007  
Blogger Poking-Stick Man said...

Good for you -- and bravo, too, for a post that opens up Plath in new ways for me:

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Now go breathe and achoo.

7:05 PM, September 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it that those with the least to fear seem to fear the most? What tiny human failures you list, set against so many accomplishments! But it's the impulse to accomplish that gives us our fear of failure. As someone who studies life writing, Dr. S., ask yourself what role those failures play in the larger narrative. Who will see those small failures, those lingering doubts, as anything other than the moments when you're most recognizably human to us? I really like that girl frozen in her math class because she can't ask for a pencil! And while you list the time you didn't get the job, I remember -- probably more clearly than you -- the day you got it. (There were two of us in the room.) So don't be so quick to banish the fear! Take a moment to laugh at it first. It's really such a sweet dog to keep following you like that.

6:14 AM, October 01, 2007  
Blogger Dr. S said...

Thank you, Other Dr. S. I think that I used to laugh at these stories--the little girl who reenters her kindergarten classroom every day after reading class and calls out, "I'm back! Did you miss me?"; the slightly older little girl who writes on a fill-in-the-blanks worksheet that what she most needs is "more concentration"--but now see them as all these little places along the way where I was afraid that maybe no one loved me, and maybe that it was because they didn't know how much I loved them--that it was because I wasn't sufficiently focused or devoted or attentive, that I was missing something important and was thus myself going to be left out. It's an old, sad ghost; it's hard for me to see it as a sweet, following dog. But I'm going to tuck that idea away, not least in gratitude for what you say here.

8:02 AM, October 01, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ghosts only follow us to insist on their own existence. They want to be remembered, but if we give in, then we become the ghost following them around. Anyway, my experience is that we revise our memories to make them sadder or sweeter, or simply to make ourselves the center of that story. (Some poor kid was failing that math test in the desk beside you.) Memory, like self-hatred, has no humility. And failure only matters in a story if we make ourselves the hero/ine. Put that story aside, and what once looked like failure looks very different. If it's the big project that's inspiring this meditation on failure, then why are you doing it? Just to succeed, or to say something that needs to be said? Do one, and you'll do the other. (But only if you do them in reverse order.)

As for not being loved, now I'm laughing. I'm not sure I've ever known anyone as widely admired and adored. All the little girls around here want to grow up to be you. As for the little boys, well, I'm just here for the pretty pictures...

8:38 AM, October 01, 2007  
Blogger Dr. S said...

Ah, thank you. Now I'm (finally) laughing too.

8:54 AM, October 01, 2007  
Blogger jen lemen said...

oh this gave me chills! well done!! :) as many old relationships go, this bugger might try to get you back but will soon move on when he realizes his efforts are humiliating and futile. yay for you!

10:50 AM, October 01, 2007  
Blogger Dr. S said...

Thanks, Jen, and thanks for the initial inspiration.

(We have the same Superhero necklace, by the way!)

11:11 AM, October 01, 2007  
Blogger Boricua en la Luna said...

Once upon a time, when I was deathly ill, an Old Wise Woman told me that when we face a terrible illness we must ask ourselves "Why do I need this illness?" I looked at her like she was from another planet. But eventually I came to realize that she was right. Sometimes, a physical illness fulfills a role in a person's life. Sometimes it enables an escape from something feared or dreaded or hated.

I applaud and celebrate the spirit of your letter. But I also wonder: "Why do you need this narrative of fear of rejection and failure?" Why does this fear have such a hold over you when your life is, to all who truly know and love you, so filled with evidence of the contrary of both? What might be the reason you allow this narrative, this ghost (as the other Dr. S so wisely states) to haunt you?

Figuring out the answer to that question will give you the strength to exorcise the ghost, once and for all.

You are the flaming sword. Take it and slay that self-obsessing monster. The little girl of yore is no more. She is now a powerful and powerfully loved woman.

8:31 PM, October 01, 2007  

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