Total, obvious fail: a happy story

I painted one of my walls with chalkboard paint yesterday. Which is why I have black streaks on both knees, most of my fingers, and one nipple (OK, the last one is hard to understand. I was not painting naked. But maybe it was the bralessness that did it).

I want to write a book. But writing a book is turning out to be harder than I’d expected. Which feels lame, because there are so many people who are trying to write a book. And I want to be one of the ones who is like, “Oh, I just wrote a book.” Like that Twilight woman, who was like, “Oh, this amazing story just popped into my head and then I sat down with my laptop and two weeks later, I’d written five trillion pages, and that was Twilight!” (Or something like that.)

I decided that I needed a giant blackboard, to sketch my plot on. If I had that, things would fall into place. So I made one. But I have to wait two days to draw on it.

Some people go through life full of life. They are proud of themselves. They are content. I want to be one of those people, but I’m not there yet.

Some people feel like failure is always following them around, lurking in various shadows, growing hungrier, waiting to pounce. I’m more like that. I am cursed with a very strong negative voice in my head.

But the other day, when I was beginning to think I had failed in some major way, I thought about this time when I actually did fail in an obvious way, and what happened after it. And it put the failure in its proper place.

A little over two years ago, a friend of mine, who organizes big events attended by hundreds of people, asked me to be a featured performer at one of her events. She asked me to play a set of my own music. (I write songs and play keyboard, by the way. See how perfect I am for Brooklyn?)

I was pretty nervous, months in advance. I had never performed my own stuff in front of a lot of people. I memorized five or six of my songs (I never memorize my own music– my memory is that pathetic), and practiced a lot, and figured out a little witty intro for each number. I thought I was just about as ready as it gets and possibly slightly more so.

And then, about a week before the event, I met Bear. And after our second date, he suddenly bought plane tickets to Utah, so that I could try a pastrami burger that the New York Times had reported on, in Salt Lake City. And suddenly I was going to have to get up at five in the morning, only a few hours after my gig ended, and go to  the airport. So suddenly my gig didn’t matter.

Which didn’t mean that I didn’t care about it when I was sitting at the keyboard in front of a packed room of people the same age as me. And it didn’t mean that I didn’t care when the bass was turned way, way up on the instrument and my voice was drowned out and I had to keep on playing and the sound guy, who was probably a little drunk, was fiddling with the levels and it never got a ton better and my voice was kinda weak anyway and by the second song half of the audience had gone outside to smoke weed and by the third song, another half had departed, and by the fourth song there were only five people left, swaying soulfully, and looking at me with supportive eyes. Yeah. Five people.

My friend who’d come with me on the 45 minute train ride to the gig said, “Man, I think you shouldn’t have done all those intros. Just do the music.” And then he asked me if we could fool around. So not so much a friend after all.

I felt just about as embarrassed as it gets. I had WATCHED them all leave. I was thinking, “Do I stop playing? Do I tell a joke? Do I know any jokes??” But I just kept playing, because it was the easiest thing to do. And when it was over, I felt a little dead. I had let my friend down, who’d introduced me as this incredible singer-songwriter. She couldn’t quite meet my eye. I couldn’t quite meet hers. I was a little mad at the stupid sound guy, but a lot more mad at myself. I hadn’t been interesting. I hadn’t been good. I sucked.

I rode the train back to the city, with the guy who was supposed to be my friend, who kept trying to kiss me.

I made it back to my tiny apartment. I lay down in bed.

And then I was thrilled. Because in three hours, I was going to see Bear, and we were going to get on a plane and have this crazy, random adventure, all the way across the country, for a reason that wasn’t even particularly good. And who knew what would happen?

Life was a lot bigger than that gig in a smoky, dim room with a subpar sound system. A lot bigger.

And really, it always is.


*  *  *

Unroast: Today I love the way my toes look with gold nail polish.



Kate on August 17th 2011 in being sad, life, uplifting

14 Responses to “Total, obvious fail: a happy story”

  1. Emmi responded on 17 Aug 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    I believe in always assuming positive intent. It reduces my stress levels immensely, and if I turn out to be wrong, oh well. It’s probably because of the other person’s own issue, not mine.

    I also tend to be very sensitive and self-critical. But then I tell myself, if I’ve found it beneficial to assume positive intent from others, why not of myself as well? Now when I hear my naggy inner voice, I know it’s just because I’m trying to get myself to be the best version of me I can finagle. I chalk it up to compulsive transcendentalism and move on. Easier said than done, but it gets easier with practice.

    As you say, it’s all about perspective :) I think the blackboard is an excellent idea. Hope it helps!

  2. B1 responded on 17 Aug 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    Cute story. My personal thoughts about the writing… just write. Create your characters by giving them life and don’t worry about the plot to begin with. You’re a good writer and the plot will find its own way into your story. I think you need to first ‘feel’ your characters to understand them, then you can put them into the situations you choose to make them real in your story and you can add some of those details into the story so that people get to know them too.

    Just my thoughts on it. I like your blackboard idea too, but now you should frame it. ;-)

  3. Alii Silverwing responded on 17 Aug 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    I think it’s interesting how your big-scary-gig became less of a priority when you were surprised by other areas of your life. It really kind of puts things into perspective when you can go through little failures just fine and continue on to something ridiculously awesome. Always good for me to remember. XD

    The best bookwriting advice I got from someone was, “Sit down and write until you’re done.” :) I’m not published yet, but I have gotten better at bookwriting. Don’t give up, do a little at a time, and you’ll have a book eventually! Good luck!

  4. Becca responded on 17 Aug 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    I read your blog baaaasically daily and mostly from work and lately I’ve really become aware of what great influence your writings and musings have been for me. Which I guess is a nerdy thing to admit. The questions you present and your careful slash bold consideration are pretty goldarn inspirational and when I recently found myself on the phone with my mom talking about how our ideas about body image are founded, and my memories of watching her diet, etcetera I realized I had you to credit for me – a lovely healthy curvy lady working hard every day to realize I am lovely and curvy – making a proactive effort not to be so abusive to myself.

    I’ve meant to comment on this ish for a long time, but something about today’s entry seemed perfect – everything is about shifting your perspective, and you shifted mine, so kudos.

    Also I am jealous of that wall.

  5. Rogue responded on 17 Aug 2011 at 4:33 pm #

    You should always paint naked! Then you don’t have to worry about ruining any clothes.

    What a terrible thing to have happen! But yes, you did the best you could. Its too bad those people couldn’t appreciate your beautiful music.

    Good luck with your book!

  6. Kate responded on 17 Aug 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    What an incredibly sweet comment. Made my day. Seriously, the failure monster that is always waiting in my shadows just shrank to the size of a cockroach :-)

    Also, there’s an interesting OKcupid blog post that involves curviness, and some data about curvy women feeling good about themselves (I have always loved the word, and the look):
    (in charts #7 and #8, “women by body type”)

  7. Katie @ ktmade blog responded on 17 Aug 2011 at 5:08 pm #

    Love this post and the reminder of how big life is. Coincidentally, I just gave my fiancee a card this morning that said “I didn’t know love could be this big.” And that’s true too! And doubly coincidentally, I’m loving my toenails in blue polish! Yay! Also, thank you for introducing me to the idea of the unroast. I love it.

  8. San D responded on 17 Aug 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    My mother painted in her underwear, as I wrote about here

    Every summer it would be expected that she would have paint in her hair, under her nails, and two daughters who wondered what was wrong with the current paint job!

    As for your book writing journey, it will happen in due time, ask the woman who wrote the Harry Potter series. As I understand it, she had a vision, stuck to it, and just kept writing. And, if I remember correctly she was rejected by many publishers along the way.

  9. Kathleen responded on 17 Aug 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    This made me smile :)

    And made my day at work, with far too many deadlines falling apart, a little easier to handle.


  10. Taryn @ TheFitFlosser responded on 18 Aug 2011 at 12:15 am #

    Such a perfect ending to an evening that wasn’t so perfect.

    It seems apparent that stories are the most successful when love conquers all. Hence, the huge success of Twilight and teenage heart-throb, Edward Cullen. Who knows, maybe in your book Bear will turn out to be the next Edward Cullen?

  11. Danielle responded on 18 Aug 2011 at 1:36 am #

    Fantastic way to remember that life carries on and that things are all in the way that you look at time! Swoon!!

  12. Lili @ Relatable Style responded on 18 Aug 2011 at 3:57 am #

    Hey, thank you for sharing :-) We always try to hide our failures that we all have under our belt (figuratively!), and that’s how it is with everything: It’s good not to be alone.
    I recently met the woman who supervised my diploma thesis again after three years. She bought a fitness bike that I advertised at uni (random, right?). Anyway, back in the days as a student I worked for her and also wrote my thesis under her wings. She actually inspired me to go down the scientific route and stay at uni. She used to talk about this big project that I had already started working on as a student and how I probably could go on there once I get my degree. As time passed, I noticed she talked less and less about it. After I got my degree I started another job at a faculty just across the lawn since she never said anything about it again. A few weeks in, I went to her office once again to talk about something random that I have forgotten by now. Somehow, this turned into a four-hour-rant (!) with the doors open (so for everyone passing by to hear) of her about how bad I am as a scientist and how bad my writing in my thesis was (which she read beforehand, and didn’t say anything about that. Which got the highest degree from my other supervisor. Oh and I also got the highest total grade in my diploma). But she did not stop at how bad I was. She said things like “You said you could write! You totally cannot write!!” (I successfully dipped my toes into minor journalism both in school and at uni) and “Your friend does so much better than you! When you both came in, I thought you were the better one, but actually she is!” and “How are you going to do anything, there are so many people out there with this diploma who are so much better than you!” Um, thanks. Needless to say, I was devastated when I came out. I had been friends with this woman for 2 years and I looked up to her. I never went there again. I might conclude this with the following: I only ever wrote one job application and got the job immediately. My first ever scientific paper got accepted for publication without changes by reviewers or journals. I have a book contract and my publisher raved about how much better my proposal was compared to the others, some of which were actual professors. I’m just glad I already had my job as this happened, otherwise I might not have had the courage to aim high. Bottom line is, sometimes people are just stupid. And sometimes, things just don’t work out for somebody. Of course, sometimes these things are also the ones when you learn the most (I got another story about that, too ^^). But it is also absolutely possible that another audience might just love what you do, just the way it is. Maybe it’s like Lily Allen said: It’s not me, it’s you ;-)

    BTW, love the chalkboard wall :-D

    Relatable Style

  13. Mary responded on 18 Aug 2011 at 10:29 am #

    This year, I experienced the first truly massive failure of my life. It was absolutely terrifying, and through most of it, I thought perhaps I was going to die. Through the rest of it, I thought maybe I was already dead. Occasionally I hoped I was just dreaming because this was indeed the kind of catastrophe I have nightmares about. Everything goes wrong, everyone hates you, the only people who can help are a zillion miles away … that kind of thing. But when it was over, I felt so amazing because I had survived it. We spend a lot of time avoiding failures, but nothing really teaches you what you’re made of quite like a failure can. So I guess my advice is to just be open to it and see what happens. :D

  14. Valerie responded on 18 Aug 2011 at 11:29 am #

    Kate, there are not SO many people trying to write books. There are a lot of people who read Harry Potter and Twilight and think that a) all writers can get that rags to riches success b) they’ve rarely read a book for pleasure but they’re pretty sure they can write really, really well because, you know, it’s their native language that they’ve been writing since kindergarten so how hard can it possibly be even though they never paid attention in English class either and spell everything like it’s a text message c) and then they come on writing forums and bother the hell out of serious writers with questions of every little aspect of their plot which is just another way for them to get someone to write the stories for them because what they write sucks terribly.

    You can write. I know this because I come here every day and read little snippets of your life and I keep coming back. Join me (and other serious writers) on this super mega awesome forum for writers: