The Finer Points Of Failure

Tom Jokinen isn’t afraid of falling short:

Making friends with failure is different than squinching your eyes shut and hoping it will go away. The latter is called the Oprah Law of Cause and Effect, which says that bad luck is always just a prelude to success. Think positive, visualize, seize the day, listen to Adult Contemporary music and ride out the bad, because the good always comes… always! The genius of the Law is that you can’t prove it wrong: you can fail all your life, but there’s still tomorrow. This is the logic of slot machines. Keep feeding it twenty dollar bills, like a reverse-ATM, and if it won’t pay out that only means it’s hot. Only an idiot would quit while he’s behind.

Gambling is rational. It’s an act of pure potential. Believing in failure as a necessary condition of life, on the other hand, is not rational, it’s mystical and counter-intuitive, until you make friends with it—not to encourage failure but to keep it from surprising you. Which is what artists and some veteran ball players are able to understand: misfortune is always there, we can manage it or ignore it, but if we ignore it the inevitable bite is that much deeper. In his short novel Seize The Day, Saul Bellow runs his hero Tommy Wilhelm through an existential wringer like God hammering Job, not as a moral lesson but to say: this is how it is. Not only does shit happen but for most of us it never goes away.

Bellow, in Seize The Day:

… since there were depths in Wilhelm not unsuspected by himself, he received a suggestion from some remote element in his thoughts that the business of life, the real business–to carry his particular burden, to feel shame and impotence, to taste the quelled tears–the only important business, the highest business was being done. Maybe the making of mistakes expressed the very purpose of his life and the essence of his being here.