I recently read an article in Columbia about Jerome Charyn’s latest novel, I Am Abraham. What drew me to it, as I thumbed through the magazine, were these words, written in bold print across a page, amidst the article’s text:
WHO THE HELL WOULD WANT TO WRITE A NOVEL IN LINCOLN’S VOICE BUT A MADMAN? BUT WHAT DID I CARE – ALL I COULD DO WAS FAIL.
This stopped me short – especially the second sentence. I thought, Wow, what courage! What conviction!
We, as humans, have such a strange relationship with failure, which the dictionary defines as “disappointment, breakdown, bankruptcy, catastrophe, fiasco, botch, flop.” When we view our perceived unsuccessful endeavors in these ways, many of us simply give up. Others, so stymied even by the thought of failure, are disarmed by the fear of it and never even try. The scenario, for many, is always negative.
Of course the dictionary’s purpose is to give definition to the word. But our human purpose is to understand how failure actually functions in our lives.
And, surely, when we feel that “sense” of failure, it easily lives up to its definition with gusto. But if we can shift our thinking from one of “end result” to one of “in process,” we can choose to evaluate why something doesn’t turn out as expected (i.e. failed). This can be a great source of knowledge. Knowledge that can help us fine tune, shift or change whatever it is we want to achieve.
In other words, “failure” is an integral part of the evolution of thought and deed. All of creation uses failure as a way of refocusing or finding a better way.
The larger quotation from Charyn in the article offered this:
“Everyone thought I was crazy. Who the hell would want to write a novel in Lincoln’s voice but a madman? But what did I care – all I could do was fail. The question was, could I inhabit that voice?”
Here are some things that inspired me about “failure” from Charyn’s words:
- “Everyone thought I was crazy.” ~ Even with others disagreed or criticized, he held to his vision.
- “Who the hell would want to write a novel in Lincoln’s voice but a madman?” ~ He didn’t blindly dismiss the concerns of others, but rather gave consideration to why they might think his vision was unviable.
- “But what did I care – all I could do was fail.” ~ He recognized that his creative plan might not succeed as he envisioned; failure was a possibility but it did not stymie him into fearful inactivity.
- “The question was, could I inhabit that voice?” ~ He faced his challenge head on; he went into the endeavor informed.
As a result, within himself Charyn reconciled that failing was okay; clearly, for him, the important part was to hold to his creative vision and try.
Whether Jerome Charyn succeeded in inhabiting the voice and character of Abraham Lincoln or failed is up to the critics … or is it?
The failure or success of an endeavor – for any of us – is truly about how one chooses to view the process. And then, how one chooses to move forward!