The Music of Failure
I saw a star fall from the sky,
And the people of Uruk stood around and admired it.
And I was zealous and tried to carry it away,
But I was too weak and I failed.
What does it mean?
I have not dreamed like this before.
~The Gilgamesh Epic
The calendar has always been somewhat arbitrary in its composition: twelve months don't fit a year nearly as neatly as thirteen would. The months and days of the week are named after a variety of gods and emperors, but the cosmological basis of the solstices and the equinoxes cannot be denied. That Christmas day ended up between the winter solstice and New Year's day is not a coincidence.
Sometimes I think that Christmas activities are a way to avoid year-end ruminations. If the year has not gone so well, why not let loose a little? And if it has been a very good year, why not celebrate it? Any excuse for a party. If it goes on long enough you just might miss that 3 a.m. wake-up call from your conscience- all those things that you've been trying to ignore throughout the year which keep bubbling up into your fitful dreams until you find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night.
Things such as:
Those ten pounds you want to lose.
The car needs repairs.
The war and the economy.
How your circle of friends is fracturing.
The "Big R" (retirement.)
Those ten pounds (again!)
How this year wasn't as good as the last.
And next year may not be any better than this year.
Or, more simply stated:
The general entropy of your life's arc.
Now just try to get back to sleep.
The title of this post is based on an essay of the same name by Bill Holm. In it, Bill examines the lives of various people he grew up with in his small town, people who never made much of a mark on the greater world, people who could be considered failures in some sense, but whose lives played out to a different tune, "... the melody that counterpoints everything but is never heard..."
The music of failure. Lives spent in the failure of living them. But Bill's message is not one of despair. For our lives have a meaning even if the meaning is beyond our understanding: "Yet in every artery of my body, and in yours too, that music of failure plays–continually. It sounds like Bach to me, and you must make up your mind what it sounds like to you."
I'll continue to wrestle with my minor demons of the night and still try to pick up the fallen star of my writing and "art": continuing to play my own music of failure. And when I do start feeling a little down about my efforts I find these lyrics from Pascal Pinon to be a great consolation:
All the books I've never read
All the words and phrases I've never said
Is life as good as it's going to get?
The music playing loud in my ears
I am trying to evaporate all my fears
It's not getting any good- until that clears.
Today is the one day I have left
In a whole new adventure and a whole new step
That I'm taking to another direction.
I wonder what it will be like
I am kind of excited, still terrified
I'm standing at a new beginning...
The future may be looking bright
I'm still convincing myself for what is right
But time has never been on my side...
Things I may not understand
Are slightly getting out of hand
I don't know anything, anything at all...
Seems that I'm about to make
An overwhelming huge mistake
With everyone disagreeing...
But seeing things a positive way
Is making me feel like it's OK
So I'm gonna enjoy the day...
~ Jófriður Ákadóttir, New Beginning
And so, on this Christmas Eve, I offer my best wishes and good cheer to all who have struggled with serpents of self-doubt.
And may each of you have a new beginning every day.