The Wonderful Company of Failure
There are certain books that keep resurfacing from my shelf as short reading. Initially, each was a small project like any book, a quaint or wrenching or hilarious journey through other worlds. After a time though, they became my favorite reruns. If I was depressed or bored or inclined to procrastinate, I took them ought as if calling an old friend. This is not intended as a slight on the authors – I am fairly certain that, in some respect, they at least appreciate the $19.99 spent, regardless of my emotional proclivities at the time.
It was perhaps a year and a half ago when my friend Nathan passed to me a copy of Paul Collins’ Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books. Any moderately sane person reading it will feel disheartened by its nostalgic fugue of failed efforts. I read an article on Barbara Follett in Lapham’s Quarterly yesterday that further demonstrated Collins’ seeming fondness for lauding the obscure failures of Western literature. He captures a delicately heartbreaking expression of the fact that everything and everyone will eventually die, like the realization I came to this year: I cannot read all the books. Sixpence House runs the danger of being perpetually morose, but I can’t help going back to it. I find myself happy in the company of people who have both failed and succeeded, not excepting people who see their forgotten successes as failures. I think I enjoy this weird museum display of disappointment for the same reason that the confessions of others bring me the healing freedom to confess: I am not alone.
Until we are blatantly rebuked, we labor beneath the delusion that each of us is alone with our mistakes and losses. It’s nearly impossible to shut out that childishly braying voice in my head that nonchalantly dismisses the faults of others as trivia. That’s all well and good for him. I only wish I had his set of light-hearted problems. Instead, I’m an utter [insert reprobation]. It’s a lie only denuded by the unnatural grace of confession. I find hope in the stories of others’ foul balls and strikes because I see that they’ve continued plodding. Knowing my record to be mostly composed of foul balls and strikes, it is a strange and wonderful comfort to believe that, if I keep walking, something fantastic might surprise me. Also helpful is the staggering irony of a published book containing lengthy autobiographical passages on the failure to be published. Thank you, Paul. We who write are emboldened.