Failure is my earnest companion now--the one I fear, the one I try to dodge, the suitor who will not be denied. My writing is suddenly a commodity and the inevitable "no"s to follow let Failure in closer. The Great Failure by my wonderful teacher, Natalie Goldberg, sits on this patchwork quilt tossed over the tabletop. The quilt fabrics are worn now--pocked with holes and unraveling threads--still--I think of the woman who stitched it all together. I see where she learned the zig-zag setting, the coils, the neat steady line...a practice quilt. She taught herself on this. The fabric? She was either high from so much dope or only had access to limited scraps (or both). The gingham touching black polyester with obscene orange flowers...the vibrant primary Mexican textile sewed to the pastel tufts of flowers and the modern blocked print--none of it, colors, textures, patterns matching up. Pink solid--red dot--white with a giant faded pear. Neon 1960's prints with brown dappled tortoise shell. Denim--synthetics--cotton--wool--canvas.
This quilt is full of mistakes, yet I have loved it for many years. I see the risks she took, this anonymous woman. She created it to learn and because the jumbled kaleidoscope pleased her. She didn't make it to sell it. She didn't create it for critical acclaim and recognition. She did it because she loved the process and I love her for it, sitting here on an uncharacteristically cool September morning when I am alone with the cicadas and the sky...and voice tells me to be gentle with myself. My novel has gone from a creative burst of joy to be edited and revised for printing. I'm selling some articles and some I am not...this is all just one big process and the stage I'm in is transition...I am a chrysalis. Twenty-five years of writing...but, I have never been on this "publishing" side before. I'm not sure what to do with the opportunities I've been given. I am thankful, but it isn't one great orgasmic release--the completion of the novel. Not like I thought it would be.
I read The Great Failure for the first time when I was in Taos with Natalie...I was please with this, "I'm with the woman of this book. I can see the mountain she writes of on the other side of this window." But, I was disappointed because I couldn't relate to it. I was in that cycle of creativity (and life, for that matter)where everything seemed possible. It was impersonal, that book...who wants to identify with failure? In our culture, is it not the one thing we all flee from? Only now, one full year after I first read it...in the midst of my own self-doubt and publishing/public insecurities do I see the layers of this book. I read it this week, weeping in the bathtub because it was so lovely. It was like she wrote it just for me, just for this past week...where I've had to wrestle with my writing work, and the seventeen year anniversary of my brother's death and the passing of what "would have been" his 37th birthday, just yesterday.
Thank you, Natalie...for looking failure head on without flinching. I am divorcing myself from the public world of writing for a little while...doing the edits I need to, but steering clear of the fears over final deadlines and advertising campaigns, low-budget tours and sales projections. I'm going to read my old notebooks, (study hall, anyone?), indulge in journaling and poetry. I will write what I want to and edit when I can. I will write like this quilt-maker sewed--like Natalie gives permission for...I will write my way to failure's heart and learn to love.
--C.Delia Scarpitti 2005--