Failure

John DeVore
Apr 24, 2016 · 4 min read

Come here, friend, and let me whisper something in your ear: I failed.

It’s not a secret. But nobody is eyeball-to-eyeball with each other anymore. I wanted you to know. Because no one ever says they failed. It’s our great national no-no. We’re winners, goddammit. We conquered the moon!

We’re all grins, stapled in place. Life is awesome, brunch is awesome, I am awesome. Social media is a club where everyone is rooting for everyone else to fail.

But that’s how it goes.

No, no, no I don’t want your pity. Hush. Have some aged gouda. I didn’t invite you over to hold hands and weep. Jesus, pity is the rotgut of emotions. No. I am proud of this mess.

Remember when we were little kids. All we did was play. There was no success or failure. Just silly, beastly, intense play. But as we grew up we were taught to weaponize it.

Part of that training was to fear failure. We are taught to fear the wrong things.

We have nothing to fear, but fear itself. Fear and rattlesnakes. Fear, rattlesnakes, and hot lava. Fear, rattlesnakes, hot lava, and ghosts. That is not an exact FDR quote.

Okay. So. I’m okay. Seriously. I am naked in the wilderness. That’s a metaphor. I am here, and you are here, and we should embrace.

What happened is the story of a fallen king. There is no blood. Things fall apart, but also, things deflate with a fart, and things slip on banana peels.

I made a thing. I had help! They were talented and dedicated. They are talented and dedicated. I think they’re all fine. I told them the news and then told a joke and everyone laughed. The thing was good and that was their fault.

This is not their failure. Oh no. I made a thing, with help, and it failed. The thing was a flop. Womp, womp. Why did it bomb? There are a dozen reasons: the gods, the markets, the timing. Me, mostly.

Lessons were learned. Experience is remembering that you forgot that it hurt. Pain instructs, and I am smarter, but not so much smarter that I won’t go ahead and do it all again. That’s a promise I won’t break, one of the few.

Anyway, it’s done. The thing is dead. Let’s fill the grave with ice cream.

It hurts. Sure. So does yoga. But it’s just my ego. Egos bruise like peaches and there a lot of peaches. They grow on trees.

So I’m going to do it all over. If at first you don’t blah blah, blah, blah, blah.

Those who do not try — and try again — are unlucky. Failure is the only good luck charm that works.

There’s an old saying about victory having a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan. JFK said that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it is much older, ancient, I think.

But I want you to know that this failure is not an orphan. I am the father. It is mine. I love it. If I could I would taxidermy it and comb its hair like some demented Victorian parent.

Let’s be honest, it’s just you and me in this blanket fort, eating aged gouda, and, in the background, there is music playing, softly, maybe ELO?

Success is failure with a nice haircut and new pants. Scratch a winner and find a loser.

When I was a Cub Scout I painted my pinewood derby car black with red and yellow flames. I didn’t know that you could — and that it was legal — to lubricate the car’s axles with graphite for the race. My competitors sped by me. I lost. But that block of wood with wheels was beautiful.

I didn’t win the next year, either. That car was art, too.

When I graduated to the Boy Scouts, the games changed. At that time, in the South, the Boy Scouts were either a nice group of virginal camping nerds or a militant corps of maniac rednecks. The favored game was called “Smear the Queer,” and I was usually the “queer,” and I would eventually become comfortable with that name. The best Boy Scout merit badge I’d ever receive. The queers I would meet in a few years would turn out to be the strongest people I’d ever met. The game was simple: I had the ball and I had to get it to the goal. Between me and the goal were the Boy Scouts. I lost every game.

But I ran for that goal like a motherfucker every time.

Things don’t change.

My failures are beautiful. I lower my head and run through the knuckles.

And that’s just some of them. The failures. There are more of course. So many. I have made loved ones cry. I have lost jobs. I have not been the man I claimed to be. I use to collect rejection letters but now I can just delete them. Once I my debit card was declined at McDonald’s because the IRS had put a lien on my bank account after I failed to pay 1099s. I failed to pay them because I failed to be sober.

And now, in the advancing old age of my youth, I have failed, again.

I loved what I made.That thing. Nothing else matters. I’m glad you’re here.

Let’s toast: you can have champagne, I’ll have kombucha. See? I just disappointed you, just a little.

To play!

Now I’ve shown you mine.

You show me yours.

John DeVore

Written by

James Beard award-winning essayist and editor. I write about politics, gender, culture, and feelings. Let’s be friends.