When the bough breaks

18 02 2015

Chimera Smyth

This will be my last post for a while. One discovers one’s limits by testing them. In doing so, one runs the risk of exceeding them.

Ours is a culture where failure is a character flaw and we only admire winners. If you don’t succeed it’s your own fault. You didn’t try hard enough. You’re lazy or incompetent. Losers deserve to be losers. So we push ourselves hard to succeed, terrified of being one of those poor sods that others look down upon in pity and contempt.

We struggle to climb that tree, clinging to the branches, pushing ourselves higher and higher while the branches get thinner, the wind howls, our fingers ache with fatigue, fear chokes us, but we see others around us climbing past us, yelling encouragement, “Come on, you can do it!” So we keep going.

And in the inspirational story of the winner, we applaud the heartwarming triumph of the hero achieving the top, with the attendant platitudes about struggling to overcome weakness, never giving up, believing in oneself.

This is not my story. In my story, the bough breaks.

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7 responses

18 02 2015
Mary Jolles

I think there is a strata or segment of society that only admires winners, but there is an even larger contingent that admires patience, perseverance and endurance, seeing in those qualities a prize worth winning in and of itself. They don’t go on talk shows and they don’t have Facebook pages, so they often remain unnoticed. But they are there, and I truly believe they are the bedrock of our society, not the screaming, shouting group struggling to make it to the “top.” The top of what? The dunghill?

As for myself, I don’t pay much attention to the people who want to be “winners” or who perceive me as not being a “winner” because I didn’t make a million dollars or get on the Today Show. Boughs do break, I know. But in the words of a famous athlete, you haven’t failed just because you fall down. Failure is when you stop trying to get up again. Simply by trying and enduring, you have succeeded in my book.

19 02 2015
jlsfarms

It was nice talking to you this morning. Didn’t realize it would be so easy to reach you. Sorry about the car accident. I was concerned, after reading your latest thoughts, for your health. I wanted you to know that your posts are appreciated and important to me. You write so well and your thoughts are deep and provocative. Thank you for what you do and I look forward to your writings in the future. Be well, Jack Sherburne

20 02 2015
justinegraykin

The accident happened when I was coming home from a Science Fiction convention in Boston. The convention had been difficult for me. It’s complicated, but to put it briefly, it left me wrung out, dispirited and exhausted. Conventions are a necessary evil, part of what a writer has to do to promote herself and her work. Many people enjoy them and thrive on them; I’m not that sort. Oh, there are aspects I do enjoy, people I like to see, and I learn a lot. But it can make one feel like mighty small fry in a big fish-eat-fish pond. I guess it got to me. That old demon Depression took advantage of the situation — that’s how it works. I made a series of progressively bad choices and wound up with my car wrapped around a tree. Thankfully I wasn’t seriously injured, no one else was involved, no property was damaged. But I remember almost nothing of the accident. It shook me up very badly.

I could have been killed.

I told myself, I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. I’m wrecking myself to promote work nobody cares about. I haven’t got what it takes and there’s no pretending I could do it if I really tried. A fish can’t climb a tree no matter how positive its attitude.

But then I got this phone call at work. A man I hardly know tracked me down to express his concern and support. Not a dear friend, not a family member, not someone who cares about me personally. Someone who has come to care about me because of my work. My words. The “me” that flows out through my fingertips onto the keyboard and reaches others through the medium of my writing. I sat at the circulation desk with tears streaming down my face. My boss came over with a box of tissues and an expression of concern.

“It’s all right,” I said. “It’s good. It’s…very, very good.”

Thank you, Jack. The devil take the tree and all its branches. So long as I have those like you to listen, I’ll be content to remain comfortably here on the ground.

20 02 2015
Mary Jolles

I second what Jack has to say, and your unnamed caller who finds your writing meaningful. I enjoy your blogs so much! And our conversations face to face, when we have the chance to have them. You have something to say that is meaningful to others. I mean, seriously, what kind of success is the author of “Fifty Shades of Gray” going to have to reflect upon in old age? A pile of money, yes, but touching people’s lives? Your short, crisp, but thoughtful pieces are good bread! I can sustain myself on that! Keep writing those blogs.

28 02 2015
kristipetersenschoonover

We’ll chat at some point, Justine, but I learned a long time ago that although I, too, struggle with that demon of whether or not I’m “successful” — I’m an artist. Yes, an artist. A writer. I’m not in this to make money, or to sell a thousand books, or to even be any kind of name. I get the greatest joy out of writing what I want to write because I have something to say to the world, or to someone, or to myself. And I love taking months to work it and perfect it, and I love sitting around discussing it with other writers/readers, because it’s a part of me, it’s a baby, and it’s a baby that has the potential to change the world: Mary is right. If you have touched one person with your work, you’ve done your job. Because that’s the job of an artist. To transform lives. When I get down, I remember that, and I get back up. I always do. Hopefully you will, too.

1 03 2015
justinegraykin

Beautifully expressed. Thank you, Kristi.

19 03 2015
Lindsey Coombs

Just read this and simply have to say my heart is with you. Glad you are okay. I find you to be a most forthright, compassionate, creative woman! We all make mistakes and know you will find healing. No judgement, just lots of support. Hope to see you soon

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