The Only Way Out Is Up

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we are free to do anything,” a character in Fight Club says.

And it’s true.

Failure gets a bad rap because people don’t understand what it means. We assume that failure is permanent. Final. And so is success. As if these are static–rather than momentary ups and downs along the journey.

I am 31, newly divorced, and working day jobs that barely pay the bills. Everything that my parents warned me would happen if I tried to become an artist has pretty much happened.

But the wonderful thing about this is that it has happened. It’s an incredibly liberating experience. Seriously.

The very worst of what might go wrong for a young person through her twenties has happened. And hey, I’m still standing. I still have a novel. I still have short stories. I still have two generous mentors and the glory of literature and the joys of friendship.

J.K. Rowling said, “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential.”

I know what she means. I have nothing left but what matters most: the people I love and the work I believe in. Writing.

All through my twenties, I was in a hurry to publish. To “make it.” And when I did publish, it was ultimately a discouraging experience. I knew I could do better.

But not yet. I lacked the skill.

One novelist in his 70s told me recently, “One of the difficulties for young writers is that their ideas are often more powerful than their technique. When if they would just work on their technique first, rather than getting in this rut that ‘I have to publish, I have to publish,’ the story could be so much better.”

He’s right, but having been one of those young writers, I know the craving for legitimacy is a hungry one. Because we fear failure. Who doesn’t? You don’t want to be judged as washed-up before you’ve really started. And so you try to succeed before you start.

Good thinking. 🙂

Of course it doesn’t turn out well.

But the good news about failure is then you’re there. And the people who aren’t worth your time don’t stick around. You know who to befriend because they see your worth as a human being, rather than the size of your income or the net worth of your property.

You get real friends, who are in it for the long haul. And you find teachers who believe in you because they see that hunger and that determination. They see that you can pick yourself up and start climbing again. From here on out, it’s all up to me. I get to decide: either I sit in the dark pit and wait for death–or I start over. My life has already been cleared of everything that might have held me back.

As Rowling said, “And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Flatiron District, Manhattan

Published by M.C. Easton

Novelist and teacher.

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