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My sister recently posted a link to an article in the New York Times by Laura Pappano about creativity as an academic discipline.

My sister has a master’s degree in Creativity, a teaching certificate, and training in improv comedy with both ComedySportz and Second City. She is a creative and comedic genius, and has predictably provided the laugh line running through my life.

When my sister posts links, I read them.

The article quotes Jack V. Matson who teaches a course at Penn State called “Failure 101.” His favorite course assignment is to have students make a resume of failures to see how those failures have shaped choices — and, I might add, how those failures have led to good things.

Failure is something writers deal with often, sometimes on a daily basis. We cut our teeth on rejection. The blinking cursor on the blank screen beats out a rhythm saying, “You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.” Rejection can be a slippery slope into a deep chasm of self-doubt and fear. As a matter of self-preservation, we’re advised not to dwell on our failures, our rejections, our bad reviews.

That’s good advice.

However, if you’re feeling up to pulling out your sword to battle your demons, I suggest engaging in a bit of introspection Matson-style to embrace your failures and see what good has come from them.

If I were to write a resume of failures, the top billing would be given to a failed application to a Ph.d program. I looked good on paper: I had good experience, my GRE scores were in the high 700’s, I had received one of two all-university fellowships in graduate school, and I had been accepted into a different Ph.d program years before, which, because of life circumstances, I couldn’t pursue then. My application sparkled.

The program I applied for only admitted one student that year.

And it wasn’t me.

The day I found out, I had plans to meet my dear friend Julie Berry. When I told her of my rejection, she suggested I apply to this program at Vermont College.

No, I said, I’m on the rebound. I need to wallow in my suffering.

So she told me to come to this conference (the New England SCBWI spring conference). “You can submit ten pages to an editor. Then if you like it, you can apply.”

Fine, I said.

Julie can be very persuasive.

I submitted ten pages, went to the conference, and met with an editor whose name is branded on my memory forever. During the critique, she gave me her email address and asked for the rest of the manuscript.

There was no rest of the manuscript. I had ten pages. That was all.

If I ever find an occasion when our paths cross again, if I ever find an occasion when giving this editor a huge hug wouldn’t seem like a stalker thing to do, I’m there. For her small kindness, I’ll be forever grateful.

I decided to apply to VCFA.

Doing so brought me home. No quantity of personality testing or career counseling could have directed me in so succinct a manner as that one failed Ph.d application.

I am now doing what makes me happy. I wear my life — my career — like a second skin. I’ll be the first to admit that it is not an easy skin to wear; I often wish I could shed it, sliding out of it snake-like, when it gets too uncomfortable. However, discomfort brings new failures — failures which lead me onward to new successes.

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