There are a lot of bad choices to be made, every day. And I have to admit, I usually veer towards the worst choice available. I think that a lot of that comes from my main intention in life, which is to be happy in the moment. And people that are happy in the moment are grasshoppers, which as we can tell from that old fable, leaves you a tad cold and hungry in the winter. So, I don’t have a lot of foresight going on when I choose my actions. Luckily for me, there are a lot of ants in the world and so usually someone helps me figure out the bad things and I have started to have a very fatalistic view on life, one where I believe that loss and failure come along to clear a path for better things.
And according to my hero, Penelope Trunk, this may well be a key trait as to why people are successful, while others are not. She says:
Everyone, please shut up about your biggest failures. I hate when people write about their failures because they always write about how they pulled themselves up, or what they learned. And really, then, it’s not a failure, is it? It’s a learning opportunity, or a chance to shine. Failure is something you did not overcome. You did not learn from. And most people are too embarrassed to write about it. High achievers don’t have failures because they can learn from everything.
I think that’s pretty genius, especially since I rarely think that when I mess up that I’ve failed. I sort of think, Well, clearly that wasn’t the right thing to be doing. Let’s try it this way. Fatalism to me, is not sort of giving up and trudging along, but perpetually believing that the right thing for you is going to show up if you knock on enough doors. So I knock on every single door I come along. Which is probably why I have had a million and a half jobs. I got my first job when I was 15, writing a newsletter for a monument company. ‘Monument company’ is a beautiful euphemism used in the death industry to say ‘we sell grave stones’. I interviewed cemetery owners and funeral home directors and researched pieces on how to properly clean granite and how to choose the right structure for your mausoleum. When I turned 17, I was still working at that office, but had a weekend job as well, working at a huge indoor amusement park, where I ran the bumper cars and hung out with my friends. I still, to this day, have no idea what idiot at corporate made the oldest manager at the place 21 and then proceeded to hire only high schoolers. We ran that place into the ground, eating free candy, watching movies during our shifts, and making out in laser tag. It closed shortly after I graduated, due to bankruptcy. Of course. At 18, my boss at the monument company sent me away for CAD training and when I returned, I worked for her full time, selling ‘monuments’ and using my artistic flair to design them on the computer. Pretty soon I was managing the second location. And then I was doing my under-grad degree and I worked in bookshops, at the dining hall of my university, as a waitress, as a barista, at the GAP, at GNC, as a camp counselor, as a cleaning lady, as a secretary, as a file clerk, as a girl who scans things at an insurance agency. As a graduate student, I worked in a clothing store, did an odd bit of editing, and worked as a ‘Bunny’ for my friend’s club night promotion. After that, more temp work, kitchen work, teaching, being a Writer-In-Residence, selling men’s shirts, and, of course, nannying.
And the main reason that I do all these things is because I want to be able to travel, drop everything quickly and run off for weekend adventures with friends, and have plenty of time to write. Or bake cupcakes. Because while I feel like all these jobs hae taught me a great many things, I think it’s what I spend my ‘free’ time doing that really defines me. I’ve worked with kids with dyslexia, I’ve baked bread and cakes for homeless shelters, and I write. My friend Al, really soon after meeting me, said he loved to write, but if no one paid him to do so, he would give it up without a second thought. He said that he felt that if no one read his writing, then what was the point? I remember sort of looking at him strangely. I know that a lot of writers I know do feel defined by whether or not they get published or noticed, but at the same time, most of them would be writers even if they were the only ones who ever saw what came out of their fingertips. While I feel an absolute glow when someone asks to put one of my pieces somewhere, because, duh, it would be crazy not to be happy when someone understands and likes what you were trying to say, I guess I come from more of an Emily Dickinson school of thought. Write it, love it, stick in a desk drawer. The way I write is like how I get tattoos: secret, small, unseen by the average person.
And I think that’s good. Because, as Penelope goes on to say:
There is no finish line, there is no gold prize. There is only living with yourself, day after day. So each day needs to be a small triumph so you can pat yourself on the back before you go to sleep.
So, I can sit down and write ten things that I loved about my week, that’s a triumph. And whenever I sit and spend an hour at my desk and I can enjoy re-reading what I’ve written: triumph! And when my cupcakes get gobbled up by homeless guys who feel really special that someone baked something specifically for them: triumph. When I manage to not get lost going someplace complicated to get to: uber triumph. And yes, of course, there are some days where just getting out of bed and not smothering people in their sleep is the biggest triumph of all. I can’t say that getting a story published or landing a cool job is a triumph, because again, like Penelope says:
Our big moments — where we can change the world — come because so many other people have helped us, and luck has come to us. But our small moments, when no one is watching and no one cares and the only thing that makes us try again is an unreasonable belief that we can get what we want for ourselves — those are the triumphs that we do all by ourselves.