All of a sudden I knew…

Yes it was a failure, but it was one that taught me so much.

57 responses to “All of a sudden I knew…

  1. A grab from my critically-unpublishable novel:

    ‘So anyway,’ she says, ‘What do you do for a living? I’m assuming you at least occasionally do something for a living?’
    ‘Uhuh. Mostly I fail – ’specially for a living.’
    She doesn’t follow him. He ticks things off on his fingers. ‘Well, I’m mainly an unsuccessful writer. But let’s see, I’ve also been an unsuccessful musician, unsuccessful artist, unsuccessful actor, a whole unsuccession of things, y’know? You name it, I’ve probably blown it. I’m like, a Rennaissance failure. But yeah, most of the time, I just concentrate on being an unsuccessful writer.’
    ‘Surely there must be something you could do successfully?’
    He shrugs. ‘Maybe. I don’t know. Like, I only try things I’m gonna be cool about failing at.’
    She frowns uncomprehendingly.
    ‘Like, what I put value on. I’d rather do meaningful stuff badly than crappy stuff as good as the next guy.’
    ‘So in other words, you achieve nothing.’
    He nods. ‘Uhuh,’ he says. ‘But only the kind of nothing I care about.’

  2. Fignatz,

    Where’s the rest of it? I’m curious. I’d like to know more.

  3. I’m having a bit of difficulty coming up with something I’ve failed at. And don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that I’m some beyond perfect human being.

    I just don’t do things unless I’m pretty darn sure I’ll succeed. I have to live with myself and I carry a big whip to beat myself up with if I so much as detect a speck of error in performance.

    Pitiful, huh?

    Failure terrifies me. Just think of all I’ve missed out on during the sixty years of my life because of that fear.

    You know what? I think I’ll ask my husband to take me golfing. I can barely make contact with the ball when I swing. I think it’s about time that I learn what failure really feels like.

    I’ll keep thinking though. Maybe there are failures that I’ve subconsciously tried to blot from my memory. Perhaps I can poke around in the tangle of my mind and resurrect something appropriate for this writing prompt.

    Thanks, Ann. The thought of failing sounds mysteriously attractive to me all of the sudden.

  4. To quote Charles Schultz’s Lucy, “I never make mistakes. I thought I was wrong once, but I was mistaken.”

  5. I’ve failed at trying to be the person I thought I should be instead of choosing to be the person I truly am. I’ve wasted endless energy, mental and physical straining unrealistically to be more than I am.
    As I look back now, I feel sad that for most of my life, I didn’t think I was good enough. I’m fairly smart and kind of cute. I think my sense of humor and compassion are quite adequate. I’ve accomplished things in my life that are admirable and my determination has carried me through adversities. I was aware of these things yet, an error or glitch in my mind kept me discontent.
    I bought my son a children’s book titled Me Too Iguana. I’d read it to him and think to myself, why that’s me. The iguana saw admirable traits in all his animal friends and tried with all his might to be like them. His friends came to recognize his low self-esteem. They threw a masquerade party with a goal in mind. Everyone dressed up to look like the iguana. From that point on, the iguana realized he had assets of his own of which he could be and should be proud.
    Even if such a party had been thrown for me, I doubt I’d have been convinced of my admirable uniqueness.
    In the past few years, I’m embracing the fact that I’m not ever going to be the person I’ve wrongly attempted to be. I’m rejoicing that I’ve done things my way and I’m not going to hide the fact that I may think and act differently than the people I come into contact with. I’m not going to wonder why I don’t think and feel like others do. I’m not going to think something is wrong with ME if I don’t see eye to eye with people I may respect and like.
    I’m letting myself move into the future with a new self-respect and a sense of pride in who I am and who I’m not. I embrace that I can’t be more than I am. I don’t want to be anyone other than myself. I believe in me. I believe in me. It’s okay to think as I do. It’s okay for me to be me. It’s okay to get angry, to laugh, to show all my layers whether they’re admirable or not.
    I’m not perfect. To hell with perfection. I need to follow my heart. I will follow my heart. I will avoid what I want to avoid. I will go toward what I believe is good and beneficial.
    (Some of you are probably getting tired of reading these thoughts of mine. I realize I’ve touched on these same things more times than I probably should. All I can say is: Sixty years of living is a lot of living. Emerging out from under nearly sixty years of wrong thinking is something I can’t stop rejoicing in. I’ve still got work to do but the momentum is with me).

    • You tell them!

      Personally I never get tired of hearing from people when they are being nakedly honest.

      As for me, I have to spend some time thinking about how to respond to this post. Not because I don’t have failures, but because I should try to keep it to a minium word count.

    • Thank you for this, Shaddy. Your openness and willingness to share with this group has had such a positive impact on me. I’ve learned very valuable lessons in the short time we’ve spent together.

      I’ve learned from each of you. Thank you all. This group is special.

  6. I want to apologize in advance, because I’m afraid the best I can give you here is mashed potatoes.

    How I would love to be stepping up to the microphone there with Shaddy, shouting to the world that I no longer give a crap, and from now on intend to simply be myself, screwing expectations and weird internal oppressions!
    …But I haven’t quite managed to fight my way out of that trap yet, so… mashed potatoes it is.

    You see, for years I tried so hard to get them perfect! I would mash and mash and mash, letting no fragment of solid potato remain. I tried a mixer, thinking that lovely creaminess of whipped potatoes was the answer. I tried using more milk, less milk, onion, no onion, garlic, celery salt, chicken broth, you name it. They were never quite right. No one complained, but to me they seemed tasteless and bland.

    I don’t know what happened that evening, but for some reason I was rushed, and the potatoes had become low priority. I hurriedly mashed them, and we sat down to eat.

    “Oh, I love mashed potatoes like this, with chunks of potato still in them.”

    I looked up at my daughter.

    “Yes, so do I!” said my husband.

    They had to be kidding. “You guys mean to tell me that all this time I’ve been struggling to make the potatoes as smooth as could be, and you actually WANTED them lumpy?!!!”

    They shrugged. “I guess so.”

    Since then, when a meal includes mashed potatoes, I pour off the water, pour in some milk, give a quick mash and a stir, and put a little butter on top. They’re almost always good.

    Can you believe that all along the secret was simply to stop trying so hard?

    • Maureen,

      Kind of funny you came to the same conclusion about potatoes that Shaddy did about her life in general. ‘Stop trying so hard.’

      I’m still working on that concept, myself.

      Good going to both of you!

      • I’ve long had a thing about eccentrics. They’re usually people who are oblivious to the opinions of others, and just naturally go about their lives doing whatever it is that makes them “eccentric” without ever considering that their behaviour isn’t “normal”.

        They don’t try to be anything except themselves – and hey, almost everyone loves them.

    • I love your mashed potatoes story. I remember the first time I made them. I beat them so long they turned into glue!

  7. What fun to see these replies! I’m learning that writing is a gamble when you put it out there for others to read (or not).

    As I was writing each post, I wondered if I would submit it or just let it go. What the heck, I thought to myself; this prompt has inspired you so don’t fight it. I wrote thinking that if nothing else I might advance my never-ending dilemma by looking at it yet once again.

    I wondered, but I didn’t worry, I just wrote. And then when I was done, I told myself that it was the truth about me as I see it. Out of respect for myself and the time I’d taken to write and with hope that someone might enjoy my honesty, I clicked submit.

    Thanks to:
    darksculptures for valuing the honesty in my words. It’s so therapeutic to get it out in the open and its beats paying a therapist.

    Zelda for sharing that all of us have affected her in a positive way. That rewards me like nothing else.

    Maureen for your priceless mashed potatoes story. What a down-t0-earth example of how so many of us put importance on issues that we assume are requirements but are nothing of the sort. (I think a women’s magazine would love your story).

    Barbara for pointing out again what Maureen summed up in a nutshell: Stop trying so hard!!

    We may all carry our wrong thinking with us to our graves but if by exposing it to others with all its flaws, I suspect we’ll each poke a hole in our satchel of misconceptions and dribble a good share of them out for the street cleaner to wash into the gutter.

  8. I’m going to be late to this party, I’m afraid. It’s my last full day in Maui, and I still have Hawaii stories to write for my blog. Need to do them now because I will have only three days at home before I leave for a coyuple weeks in Russia.

    I’ll tell you, retirement sure is wearing….

    Anyway, know that I enjoy reading all your responses, and I’m happy to see my friend Fignatz joining the fun.

    • Oh to be worn out from being retired. I think I could handle that. If I choose to wear myself out, that’s a whole different situation.

      Three days most certainly won’t be enough time for you to get ready to leave for Russia. I better take the trip for you so you can put your feet up and fine tune your narrative on your Hawai’ian adventure.

      Too much of a good thing can be harmful you know.

      Your welfare is as always my greatest concern. I’ll be checking the mailbox for the itinerary and all documents pertinent to my upcoming trip to Russia.

      Don’t mention it, Gully. I know how grateful you must be, but it’s quite alright.

  9. Hello everyone! I’ve so truly wanted to join into your conversations but my timidity has gotten in the way. I’ve also been guilty of taking another course, which means that my writing has gotten in the way of writing. Coincidentally enough, I’ve also been guilty of remodeling my home office; I had been reading through some of the previous titles and had to chuckle. My office was a nursery to the origional owners of my home and overun my demonic pastel koala bears that refused to come off of the walls. Now, thanks to some paint, carpeting and Ikea, I have a great office with two work stations. One for me and one for the hubby. (Zelda, we were battling over workspace as well so this was our solution. ) So now, I still find myself curled up on the sofa or at the bistro table on the back deck writing in my notebook, oldschool style, with my trusty pen and paper. I guess some things will never change. At least the final draft will be done in the fabulous new office.

    • Hello, Jo.

      We’re all timid so you fit right in here. Enjoy doing your final draft in your new writing place.

    • Welcome, Jo!

      Shaddy’s right. We are all timid except we tend to stick our necks out here more than we might in some other places. Ann always says ‘Feel free to write poorly’ and I, for one, have taken her up on it on a regular basis. We’re looking forward to reading your work.

    • Hey Jo,

      Jump in, that’s what I did and they haven’t kicked me out yet.

  10. NIce try, Shaddy. I’m surprised you didn’t suggest replacing me on the Maui trip, though, so I would have time to get ready for Russia. Well, I leave this afternoon, and have about a half dozen more stories to post on my blog before I leave Friday for Russia.

    Jo, welcome. Sounds like you fit right in.

    Does anybody know where Walk is? Maybe he’s hiding in his tornado cellar until summer’s over?

  11. Thank you everyone for the welcome, again. I stuck my nose in a few months ago, but as usual I put everything before my writing. So here I am between work and my sons golf match on the blackberry itching to put my thoughts on failure into print, because lord knows that I’m full of failures. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to sit down tonight with it.

    • Not to worry. We’ll be waiting patiently for it, whenever it may appear.

      I give you until half past midnight, tomorrow.

      (Well, most of us are patient!) 🙂

  12. Sorry, Ann, for all the off-track meandering. Here’s my official assignment submission:

    Yes, it was a failure, but one that taught me so much. When Lon and I as newlyweds sat down to eat the first casserole I’d ever made, a tuna fish casserole, we soon realized I’d forgotten to include the tuna fish in the recipe.

    All of the sudden I knew… my cooking probably wouldn’t be the glue that would hold our marriage together!

  13. Indeed, back to the subject, and continuing Shaddy’s food for thought:

    Yes, it was a failure, but one that taught me so much, ie that when the power goes off on a stormy Saturday night, and one has only a perfumed candle for illumination, it’s important not to tilt it while using its light to stir the gravy.

    All of a sudden (well actually, after a few mouthfuls) I realised that sandalwood doesn’t really do a lot for the flavour of roast lamb.

    (Sadly, based on a true experience.)

  14. Not in the ‘fraidie hole, Gully, but busier than a one legged grasshopper pickin’ the seeds out of a dill pickle, but I’ll quickly leave my two bits…..

    I can still hear Tammy Whynot singing “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” over the Court Clerk’s radio as she stamped my papers “FINAL”. So that was it, I was single once again. I didn’t feel sad, I didn’t feel much, the Novocaine of divorce filled my soul. But, I did feel failure. Divorce wasn’t something that happened in my family, but there I was, breaking new ground.

    First thing I did was buy a George Strait album with the song that started out “Pardon me, but you left your tears on the jukebox, and I’m afraid they got mixed up with mine….” . The next thing I did was go to the empty house and wear that record out. I think “All my ex’s live in Texas” may have been on that album also.

    When the feeling started coming back and I wasn’t drooling all over myself, I started evaluating what went wrong. The author of a book I read on “starting your life over” said that you could never love another person if you didn’t love yourself. Wow, my nose bled from thar hit between the eyes.

    A friend dragged me out to the bars and I quickly decided there wasn’t anyone there that I wanted to establish a relationship with. For example, my first date talked about her ex and how he beat up her last boyfriend. Now, I’m a big ole boy, muscled up at that time, and he didn’t scare me, but who needs that kind of trouble. So I started looking for alternatives.

    I wandered into a church one Sunday and attended a singles class. Everyone there had or was going through what I was. I decided this was where I belonged, besides, there was a cute dark hair lady with a killer smile.

    That’s where I met Beautiful. As I grew as a person, so did our relationship. We dated for three years, wanting to be sure we weren’t just on the rebound.

    What I have learned through all this.
    1. I have talents I never would have pursued as now I get encouragement instead of insults.
    2. I married the second time for love and not lust. I found out that there is a different between having sex and making love.
    3. That the ole boy was right, when you love yourself, you can love others.
    4. And as my mother told me, she was glad my smile was back, that she had been missing it for years. I never even realized that.

    So, there ya go. Even someone as perfect as me can fail. I’m sorry if I destroyed the imagine that you had of me up there on that pedestal, but now you know I am human. (Ok, ok, you can quit gagging now).

    • After reading this, I do want to take you off that pedestal I had you on, but only temporarily. I’m erecting a higher one. It’ll be big enough for Beautiful to stand on too. I suspect she encouraged you to spend time writing.

    • Your Beautiful sounds much like my Big J. Isn’t it wonderful when the person you are with encourages you and brings out the good in you? You are a very lucky man, and I am a very lucky woman to be blessed with second chances and with such wonderful people at our sides.

  15. Fignatz, love your humor. Is that from being “down under” and all the blood running to your head?

    Shaddy, thanks for opening up, I could relate to it. Scary huh?

    maureen, I don’t mind lump taters either. Goes with the lumps on my head.

    Jo, hope us crazies don’t keep you from posting. The topic may go in many directions, there is no right or wrong here. The purpose is to just write, with permission to write badly, which I’m an expert at.

  16. Thanks, Walk – more likely the alcohol, which is really hard to pour into your mouth when you’re upside-down.

    While I’m posting this, and being relatively new around here, can I ask generally about the group’s protocol regarding “four-letter words” (used with my famed impeccable judgment and only out of literary necessity, of course)? It’s just that I was thinking of posting a piece of my writing that was vaguely relevant to a few points raised here, but I thought I might be going too far. And in case anyone suggests it, I personally find hyphens and asterisks in the middle of such words more offensive than what they supposedly sanitise. (And by the way, apologies for the English-style non-Websterian spelling in my various posts.)

  17. When I left the water running in the kitchen sink for the third time, all the sudden I knew I was spending to much time on the internet.

    • Make sure the sink drain is closed next time. That’s the way I routinely clean my countertops and kitchen floor. Once a month, I let the sink overflow and then mop up the mess. 🙂

      I have to play games with myself when it comes to housework or it wouldn’t get done. My laptop is like an extremely strong magnet that I’m powerless against.

      I say “Go with the flow.”

  18. Hi everyone,

    A fews words from the bad penny, here. You guys sure do have some lively discussions sandwiched in-between terrific writing.

    May I play, too?

    Ann’s topic, “Yes it was a failure, but it was one that taught me so much,” sent me to the file drawer, thinking about a dream I failed to achieve and — strangely — all the good that came from it. Here’s the rough draft, straight from the archives:


    Mother. Now there’s a loaded word. HGT, BBT, IVF, GIFT: acronyms of infertility, the arcane language of hope and disappointment.

    Dark drops of loss finally signaled an end to the campaign. My grief was formidable; frenzied physical labor my way through the pain.

    Shortly after that event, my mother-in-law suffered a major stroke and I helped prepare her home for sale. Alone at the house one day, I began to clean out the old detached frame garage. I approached a heavy, homemade work table. It was octagon shaped, the surface an avalanche of ancient window casings, screen doors, metal and a small mountain of irregular wood pieces.

    I felt a raw strength that I failed to identify as anger. I pushed and tugged on the heavy pieces, and threw them off the table carelessly, with no regard for bruises, cuts or splinters. When the emotional storm subsided, I stood there, panting, covered in sweat. An ache began to move downward from my neck. “Good grief!” I thought. “Where did that come from?”

    My first husband had told me that if I “had to have children,” to “find someone else” to do it with. When I married my second husband, he had three grown children already, but went every step of the way with fertility treatments for me until an allergic reaction to the injections caused an early miscarriage and danger to my own life.

    The first lesson and gift from this failure to bear children was my husband’s love for me. He wiped out that earlier rejection completely and healed my heart.

    The second came as I took care of my mother-in-law in the years following her stroke. Through the mysterious alchemy of love, she became my own little girl, and I became a mother, after all.

    • Your mother-in-law was extremely fortunate to have you to mother her when she was recovering from her stroke. I’m pleased you’ve allowed your husband’s love and the opportunity to care for your mother-in-law to heal your heart.

    • First, this is pure Beth style, the words you put together, especially when writing about heartache, paint the picture and are so filled with emotion. I want to be you when I grow up.

      Second, I miss your blog. I miss seeing what is happening at Long Pine and in your world. I guess to sum it up, I miss ya. Which brings up another point, but I think I’ll have to blog about that.

      Glad to see you here.

    • Wow Beth, you went through quite a journey. Your mother-in-law was/is I am sure, very happy to have you to care for her. Your story is proof that we can either choose to stay mired in the muck of disappointment or move on with our lives and grow with new experiences.

    • I see know why Gully was so distraught when you decided to take down your page. I really enjoyed the real emotion in your submission.

      Having had two miscarriages in 2007 I can relate to your pain. Although I have two children of my own, my second husband will now be childless. I sometimes feel like I am a failure not being able to provide him with a child of his own.

      But, we do go on. In many ways it has made our marriage that much stronger. We trust that the plan for our life will take us somewhere other than what we invisioned, but as long as we go there together, that is all that matters.

    • Thanks for making me feel welcome in this cool corner of cyberspace. I just jumped in, pushed send, and then thought, “Oh, good Lord, what did I do?”

  19. Hey! HEADS UP, ALL O’ YOUSE!!! Beg to differ with Ann, though I know it was a writing prompt, but take it from, there are no such things as “failures.” There are only a learning experiences, and I have had gazillions of them, mostly the hard way.

    Fignatz, ultimately it will be Ann’s call on four letter words as this is her site. In her classrooms she preferred not to allow them, and the censors at ed2go would refuse posts containing even mild ones. However, this is a more mature site (though its followers might not be), and she must make the call.

    I say there is no call for gratuitous swear words–swearing for the sake of swearing–and writers should be able to find other words. But I can think of a number of situations wherein only a four-letter word is appropriate.

    Anyone else on this subject?

    BTW, I’m home and now it’s time to live on the edge and post a story about Pele, the goddess of fire who lives in volcanoes and exacts revenge on those who slight her.

    • I reckon you’d be right smart not to slight Pele. She’s a four-letter word who packs quite a punch.

      We’ve been doing quite well here with the language we presently use.

    • Welcome home, even if it is a short stay, Gully. I hope your Russia trip is as exciting as Hawaii.

      One the four letter words I agree with you that using swear words just for the sake of using them detracts from the story, as it detract in every day conversation.

      And yes, it’s Ann’s call on that. Although I’m sure Fignatz would make me laugh using them.

  20. Fignatz: A word, if you will. The word for sheep meat between lamb and mutton?

  21. Hogget. Hogget, hogget, hogget. The edible mutton.

    • Gee, I always thought it was called menopause.

      (And on the f–r-letter words issue, I don’t use the “baddies” on my own blog. The item I was referring to just won’t work without one character’s use of one (I’m not being precious here, it just can’t be replaced), but I felt it was important and respectful to check first, so thanks to everyone for the feedback.)

  22. I personally don’t care about the naughty words, used judiciously. You could always put a bad word warning at the top. Ann’s G-rating has slipped a bit on this site, in case you all have forgotten! But as everyone else has said, it is really up to her.

  23. I have been in a funk and avoiding this assignment. I will spare everyone the dissertation as I have already bellowed on my page.

    Ok, time for the assignment:

    Growing up was not always a fairytale of princesses, tea parties and castles. In fact, most of my life dwelled inside the fringes of extreme family dysfunction.

    As a child I didn’t know how to interpret these things. I just thought I lived in my older sister’s shadow. She was my mother’s favorite child. My mother didn’t even bother to make this information less than evident. In my world I imagined I was just not a part of their secret first-born society. My father was a firstborn, my mother a firstborn, my sister a firstborn, and me the outsider. I was the last. I really believed it was a secret society.

    Living in the shadows of the perfect first-born children’s society, I developed the classic “A” typical personality. I had to be the best. I had to win. I had to do more, give more, make more, be more, live more, and have more than anybody. Yet, even with all of this effort, I still resided in the shadows. I was exhausted and still an outsider.

    I feared venturing to far from home, even as an adult. What if they forgot about me, after all it appeared I was dispensable. If I didn’t take care of their needs, they would just find someone else who would. My sister was always jumping in before me. My effort seemed too little to late.

    As I grew a bit older I was beginning to see I was the product of a co-dependent dysfunctional family. This was the result of many family illnesses; alcoholism, drug addiction, infidelity, and even mental illness–just to name a few.

    Suddenly, not by choice, my job required me to travel extensively. I was away from my hometown several days out of each week. When I was out of town, I had to leave my children in my parents care. However, the immediate dangers that I faced as a child were not around. Many had died from the side effects of their sicknesses.

    A completely new world opened up to me. Yet, the dysfunctional co-dependency instilled by my family had not left me.

    Why was I so strong in the world and so weak in my own life? I lived under the thumb of all of those who’s opinions and needs were deemed more important than me. I had no voice. Still I followed the creed that what is good for the many outweighs the needs of the one. (Thanks Spock!)

    Therefore, I continued to live my life in the shadow of the remaining members of my family. Every detail of my life was constructed and designed around their needs. My children seemed happy. Secretly I was miserable.

    Then it happened, the biggest mistake of my life: I allowed my own daughter–my oldest–to become a part of their secret society. I had even become an outsider in my own home.

    I was so angry with my parents. How could they get between me and my children? How could a parent do that to their own child? How sick for them to care more about her loving them, then loving me?

    Once again, nothing I did mattered. Only the security provided by my paychecks seemed of any importance to anybody. I had unknowingly given over to my parents the ability to raise my children the way I saw fit. Because I never stood up for myself, I didn’t know how to stand up for my kids.

    It became painfully apparent that they were molding my children into the next generation of their dysfunctional co-dependency. All of the sudden I knew it was time to set my boundaries. I had to learn to embrace being the outsider. I used that separation as my strength to break free.

    That was three years ago, my daughter (now an adult) still has not come around. Doing what makes my parents comfortable and happy is the only thing she understands. She is the buffer that keeps their dysfunctional relationship functioning. She is miserable and completely unhappy, but so under their thumb she may never break free.

    By the grace of God I intervened in time to set things right with my son. He has learned, much faster than I have, what it is like to live a life free from the oppressive burden of co-dependency. He has learned how to stand on his own. His strength has taught me how to how to relive my childhood through him, this time in a happy and healthy way.

  24. Yes, it was a failure, but one that taught me so much. All of a sudden I realised it was going to happen not with a bang, but neither with a whimper. More like a tantrum, I guess…

    … She shook her head dismissively. “But as for your idea of us having to pretend to be something we aren’t, I still think it would’ve been dishonest and demeaning. I am what I am, we are what we are. And that oughta be enough.”

    He scowled. “Well, it’s not. Out there, you are what they think you are. And if they think you’re a loser, they make damn sure you lose.” He turned to her, and shrugged. “Like it or not, that’s how it works. And if losing isn’t demeaning, maybe you’d like to tell me what is.”

    She sighed, and stared off into the dark for a moment. “Okay, yeah, perhaps I can,” she said quietly. “Once upon a time, back when I was little, all the other kids around here used to go barefoot in torn jeans and ratty old clothes – even at school. But not me. Poppa Pete thought he always had to dress me up all nice and pretty – just so I didn’t look like the kind of ‘loser’ everyone expected the abandoned kid with no surname to be.”

    He stared at the side of her face, mildly surprised by the subtle hint of resentment not quite disguised by the softness of her voice.

    “And then one day,” she continued, “I dunno, I was maybe nine or ten, I guess – we were in the clothing store in town, and old Miss Muriel who owned the place with her sister was tying some stupid bow on some stupid new fussy li’l pink dress Pete was gonna buy for me, and I said to him: ‘BOWDLERIZE ‘em, Pete –’.” She giggled lightly, and turned her eyes to meet his. “I didn’t even really know what the word meant, y’know? It was just something everyone always said – except for Miss Muriel and Miss Daphne.” Her eyes drifted away again out into the night. “But anyway, right there in front of both the Misses, I piped up with: ‘BOWDLERIZE ‘em, Pete – I just wanna be me.’. And Pete stared at me, and then gave me this big long hug, I’ll never forget it – you’ve got no idea how beautiful that old man was, hotshot – and after a while he just kinda nodded, and he untied the bow, and pulled the dress off over my head and gave it back to Miss Muriel, and said to me: ‘Yeah, BOWDLERIZE ‘em, kid. Them despisin’ you’s better’n you despisin’ you.’.”

    They sat there in silence. The music from inside had stopped for a moment, and even the crickets were chilling out. He sighed. “Yeah, well, I guess I know where he was coming from,” he murmured eventually. “I’ve realised since I came here that I’m something of an expert in the art of self-despising.”

    She nodded. “Okay, so here’s a good question,” she said. “Who’s doing all the despising? The ‘you’ that’s who you are – or the ‘you’ that’s trying to be something else?”

    He’d got lost somewhere. “What?”

    “There’s two of all of us – it’s not just a Gemini hotshot thing, y’know? Or even an out-of-balance Libran thing.” She grinned. “There’s two of everyone – the inside ‘you’, and the outside ‘you’. The inside ‘you’ is who you really are, and the outside ‘you’ is who you think you are, or wanna be – or, if you’re a real mess, who you need other people to think you are.”

    Where was she going with this, he wondered – apart from uncomfortably close to the bone? He shrugged. “So?”

    She shrugged right back at him. “So if you don’t like you, the first question’s gotta be – which ‘you’ is calling the shots? Which ‘you’ doesn’t like which ‘you’?”

    He snorted. “This is ridiculous.”

    “No it’s not.” She shook her head earnestly. “Like, who’s got the problem? Either the inside ‘you’ isn’t happy about having to go along with the outside ‘you’ – or the outside ‘you’ is pissed-off coz it wants something the inside ‘you’ just isn’t ever gonna be able to deliver. Or usually, both – coz it’s really one and the same thing. So ultimately, there’s only one way both ‘you’s are gonna be happy – and that’s when the outside ‘you’ gives up trying to be something else, and accepts and respects and digs where the inside ‘you’ is coming from. You see how simple it all really is?” She grinned triumphantly. “You are what you really are inside, and that’s all you can ever really be happy being.”

    “Simple?” he smiled. “I’m not even sure which ‘me’ is more confused than the other.”

    “Maybe you just need a practical demonstration of how it works.”

    “Oh, sure.” He rolled his eyes dubiously. “Like what?”

    She got up and reached for his hand. “Like frankly, I wouldn’t BOWDLERIZE the outside ‘you’ in a technicolour fit,” she grinned. “But if you wanna step inside for a while…”

    • (BOWDLERIZE ’em. I love it).

      I found a gem in your narrative: “You are what you really are inside, and that’ all you can ever really be happy being.”

      I’m working on getting this self-realization thing straight in my mind but so far all I’ve accomplished is turning my shirt, shorts and socks inside out.

      P.S. You’re a damn good writer. Is that one of the four letter words you were wondering about? That one’s pretty fun to use.

      Do you think there’s hope for me yet?

    • Fignatz — from now on, when I have a certain four-letter word in mind, your ten-letter substitution will pop into my head and I will be able to say it out loud and look as innocent as a (I hesitate to say it) lamb. I really enjoyed your dialogue in this piece. I suspect you are a sweet person, but I promise not to tell anyone. Wouldn’t want to damage your rep.

  25. Ah, Fignatz. Delighted you came through with this one.

  26. Beautifully Chaotic

    Do you ever look back on your life and think, this was my failure, this is what I have failed the most at in this course of my time. People tell me I’m young, I have time, but to me, that time has almost run out. Mid-twenties, unmarried, no children, no house, no job now too. Don’t have a degree, can’t decide what to even go to school for. Self-medicating and insomniatic, I give up on my dreams a little more each day. I made a lot of the wrong choices, the result of which has me believing that this life is unfixable, the world unable to be saved. That my soul is so tainted as to be beyond forgiveness, and far past redemption. My life a cataclysmic disaster to the lives of those around me.

  27. This site will always offer an ear and the words of many who have been where you are now. I don’t pretend to know the answers, but often the stories of others can help you see that you are not alone. Keep posting and reading, BC. It’s good to hear from you.

  28. BC — In my mid-twenties, a somewhat similar story: a bad marriage in flames, no children, no job, thought I was a bad person because of things I had done, severe crisis in self-confidence, etc. — felt like I had burned the bridge behind me & the one in front was in flames. Only choice seemed to be to jump in the water and hope I learned to swim before landing. Now — at 58, I’m pretty sure I am in the top 10 happiest people on the planet. Good folks on this site; & if you want to have an email exchange, feel free to write. Good luck. . .

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