Wednesday, February 17, 2016

On Failure

Travel is inspiring, but travel for work can be exhausting and
can lead to failure. 
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how much I loved challenges.  But I wouldn’t have loved them as much eight years ago when I was struggling with perfectionism.

Let me tell you where this is coming from.  I had a great January. Did the work, sent the work out, revised the work.  Showed up!  Hooray.  February has been more of a challenge (but not the good kind).

I love the job that pays my bills.  But, it means I travel long distances (which can be exhausting and disorienting no matter how much I enjoy it).  It means that I am with strangers 6-10 hours a day, which is about 100 percent more time than I usually spend with strangers.  I’m an introvert who needs silence.  When I’m working at my paying job (one or two weeks out of every two months, generally), the hours I write and the hours I gather in are cut back from a strong rope to a slender thread. 

So, in February, though it’s halfway through the month, I’ve only written eight poems.  Since I left for Kenya on Feb. 4, I’ve written fewer than 4,000 words.  Picture books are too bulky to carry, so I haven’t read any.  I have two on my laptop that I downloaded from the library, but I haven’t read them yet.  I have poems that need to be sent out.  I did post date some blog posts before I left, so at least that’s done.  But overall, I’ve failed to meet my goals.

Failed.  For a perfectionist, that's a powerful word.  In the past, failing to write poems from Feb. 5-9 as I did would mean that I wouldn’t write any more poems in February.  Maybe not even for the entire year. 

Here's the photo, taken in Kenya during rush 
hour that inspired my poem "Transfiguration."
This is a type of stork that my taxi driver said 
was only found in downtown Nairobi.  You 
thought geese were bad. 

Not keeping up with my word commitment would mean that I’d probably stop writing for a month or two.  But I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past eight years.  Now I know that just because I don’t always meet my goals , it doesn’t mean I won’t meet my goals.  It just means that I’m having a momentary set back.  I can get back to work on the goal when space (mental or physical) opens up. I can write a poem when I have the energy and quiet to find inspiration.  If I don’t have energy, I can forgive myself, take a walk on the treadmill, or sit by the pool and soak in the world.

Today after a twelve-hour flight across Africa and Europe,  I was sitting in the airport waiting to board my flight back across the Atlantic. I looked at a picture I’d taken on the drive to the airport and wrote a poem.  Though the travel can sometimes get in the way of my work, it also feeds my work. 

I finished a long chapbook last year inspired by my travels (Liminality) that is well on its way to becoming a full-length manuscript.  The book is about the places I’ve seen and by the otherness  and peculiar dislocation of travel. 

Now, on the plane, I’m writing this blog post.  I have free economy plus upgrades, so I have plenty of space for my laptop.  (All the travel I do has other benefits, too.)

I don’t have to meet every challenge I set for myself perfectly.  But challenges keep me moving forward.  Since I’ve learned to forgive myself, to be gentle and patient with myself when I encounter difficulties in my writing practice, I find that it’s easier to come back to the work. 

Note:  One book that really helped me think differently about my perfectionism was The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown.  It's helped me accept my wonderful imperfections (most of the time). 

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