Learning to Fail

Failure is inevitable for most of us. Throughout our primary and secondary education we are given no option but to get into situations where we are guaranteed to fail. Everything from debate classes to cheerleading tryouts and, if you were like me, all the way back to the monkey bars is designed to challenge you to the point of failure build character. Most of us found areas where we clearly succeeded and some even go on to make a living doing those things. Some of us just avoid what they found failure in.

The startup culture values the concept of failure, saying that no great successes were ever achieved without failure. Fail fast, fail often is a common mantra in a world that values quickly finding flaws in a product so that you can find the subsequent solution.

I’ve been known to shy away from failure.

Far from that, I have made a habit of avoiding things I know I’m not any good at. A handful of years ago, I realized that this habit wasn’t based on any real evidence that I would not succeed. I would worry and worry leading up to the onset of a project and get so distraught over the possible outcome that, as often as not, I wouldn’t even begin.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave; it is merely a loose application of the word. Consider the flea! — incomparably the bravest of all the creatures of God, if ignorance of fear were courage.

Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson

The idea that courage is the ability to overcome fear was somewhat foreign to me. It’s not that it sounded odd when I heard it laid out, it’s just one of those things that was not clear until I’d seen it. Avoiding what I wasn’t guaranteed to be good at was actually just me being a coward.

So I’ve taken up, and really failed at, a lot of things: kayaking, West Coast Swing, coq au vin, and sewing an Armani design… just to name a few. The only way to learn is to boldly try. I’ve been learning to fail, and therefore broaden my horizons just as my teachers promised, by boldly trying things that I have no prior knowledge of. My next guarantee-free hobby will be learning Spanish.

I am starting with Duolingo to get some basics under my belt, but after that I will move on to conversation groups and Spanish radio.

If not radio, then something equally immersive!

Talking to Strangers: The Elevator

“May I call you Dental Claims Girl?” he asked, reaching around me to push the elevator button.
“Only if I can call you 11th Floor Guy,” I replied, removing my gloves.
“I have a name, you know,” he replied. I turned to look at him.
“So do I.”

He asked my name and said “Ah. You’re French.”
“You’re Armenian.”
“Tunisian,” he said, shrugging.
“So you speak French.”

He asked why I thought he was Armenian.

I didn’t really have a reason, I guess. I told him as much, too. It was suddenly like I’d entered an episode of Sports Talk. Only sentences with five words or less.

The elevator reached my floor.

“To be continued?” he said, holding the door open.
“Yea,” I called over my shoulder, “serial elevator conversations!”
“It would be a best selling book!”

Talking to Strangers: The Market

I got some Greek yogurt at the market this evening. I was just reading this morning how I could make some for myself and had gone to get the ingredients. Clearly I intended to make some for myself.

I should mention that I do not, as a general rule, choose to make yogurt in my kitchen.

I’ve been wanting Greek yogurt for some time – I’d safely say months – and haven’t been able to find any. I therefore took to the internet in search of recipes. I’d made my way through a fair number of them and had chosen one that seemed authentic yet fairly simple and made my way to the grocery store, armed with this information.

I had to be directed to a number of items.

Halfway through this, I ran into one of the stock boys that I always see on Wednesdays. He asked what I was doing and I explained the whole thing about the yogurt.

“Greek yogurt?” he asked, playing with the diamond stud in his ear.
“Yea… it’s yogurt but thicker.”
“We have Greek yogurt…”

I looked at him through squinty eyes, head half-cocked.

“You mean to say,” I started, gesturing with my bag of Twizzlers, “that you’ve had this all along?”
“No, I just stocked it last night. C’mere”

I followed him to the “Health Market” and smiled as he made jokes about it being my favorite section. He reached behind the fruit and produced Greek with Honey and Greek with Blueberries. One in each hand.

“Organic… I know you like that,” he said, chuckling, “and Greek and single serving for my favorite single lady.”

I smiled back as he took my basket.

“I’ll put these ingredients back.”

My Experience with Laughing Gas

“I’m nervous,” I said to the nurse as I went in. She had already taken my glasses so I couldn’t see anything and that’s probably for the best. I don’t really know why I made that particular announcement. It’s as though I thought I was the only one of sixteen people in the day who would be afraid of oral surgery.

“Oh are you?” she said, with surprise. “Well sit down here.” I sat in the chair and she placed the nitrous over my nose, asking me to breathe deeply. I told her it tasted funny. Like cotton candy flavoring.

I don’t know if anyone has ever told you what being under nitrous oxide is like, but it is an odd sensation. The first thing to change in how your head feels. Your ears begin to ring and your head starts to feel as though it’s vibrating. I imagine it what concussion feels like. Shortly thereafter, your hands and feet start to feel the effects and the feeling travels inward until your whole body feels like it is a buzzing, electric mass.

It’s cool, frankly.

What happened then, though, is that my body had slowed down without notifying the old brain so that I continued to need to talk. I can imagine you’re not surprised that I wanted to talk. So in a voice slow and deep I told the nurse about myself. Each word was hard to manage, as though they’d been lashed all together with salt water taffy, but I pressed on.

“My best friend is out there,” I said, slowly. “She’s taken the day off. Isn’t that amazing? Aren’t I so lucky to have such a good friend?” The nurse agreed that I was. Just then the doctor arrived.

“I’m nervous,” I said to him as he came to the chair, “but it’s not your fault. You seem lovely!” I turned to the nurse. “Doesn’t he seem very nice?” I asked before turning back to the surgeon and telling him that, yes, I felt he seemed very nice. I also told them how many people had referred me.

The doctor told me I had two impacted teeth to which I replied “That’s exactly right, doctor!” as though he needed my help. He then asked if I was was ready for my IV and I informed him that if he wanted my ID he’d have to ask my best friend to get it from my purse. He told me I’d feel a poke on the count of three.

He got to two before I said “Ouch… that’s… quite a poke.” They all laughed, as they should have since he hadn’t done anything yet. I assume this is the part where they would have asked me to count down from 100 except that I had never really stopped talking.

It’s not as though it would be hard to tell when I was officially out.

Which took about two seconds.

The Balanced Life

I’m  doing badly at being balanced. I sort of feel like it’s leftover from before, really, as though I was already not doing the laundry so that fact that the laundry remains undone is just residual. However, this evening as I was being guilt-tripped quite effectively, I started to get that familiar feeling.

“You’re just not being disciplined enough,” a voice inside my head hissed.

It’s true:
– That I am almost always up by 6, 7 at the latest.
– That I spend an average of 8 hours a day in my apartment and six of those tend to be spent asleep.
– That I have about three jobs.
– That I go to the gym two or three times a week.

It’s not true:
– That I have a family to care for.
– That I have a pet.
– That I am incapable of doing my own shopping.
– That I am using my time 100% wisely.

But still, I can’t imagine being very much more disciplined. I suppose I could start planning my day in 15 minute segments. Or I could plan out all of my free time, all the time thus defeating the very idea of free time. I could refuse to do anything spontaneous again ever.

These solutions just seem so excessive.

The Week I Was a Runner

I was running for a small period of time with a large German man. By small period I mean until it got cold. So… one week just before Thanksgiving, that’s how long I ran with him.

M Marine was asking me about it during a recent long, tedious drive to Ohio. We had just finished trying to calculate the actual speed of his truck if you took into account the new, larger tires. I suppose it was time to move to a more mundane subject. He asked if I’d been running recently with his friend the Giant Gentle German (heretofore know as GGG).

“Of course not,” I said to him, turning my nose up at the thought.
“Why not?” he asked in return.
“Because it’s cold,” I replied. The ‘you idiot’ was probably implied a little more strongly than necessary.
“Cold just makes you work harder,” he laughed. “It makes the survival instincts kick in.”

I’m sorry, but whomever it was that discovered this should just be locked in a room somewhere. I remember when I first read that article in the New York Times. I posted it to facebook. I was highly skeptical and not because I just don’t like to exercise, as it has been suggested.

It’s because, dear reader, freezing cold temperatures do not inspire me to rush out and run far distances. It makes my jaw hurt, my nose hurt, my lungs hurt. There is a distinct feeling of suffocation in the winter times for me and my immediate survival technique is to get out of there. I mean, who when faced with freezing climes ever thought to themselves “best go for a run” before they thought “best make some form of shelter”?

Yes it’s true, GGG may think along the lines of physical activity to stave off death but I want to construct a lean-to next to the jet fuel storage units.

Jet fuel, yes, since we run at the airport. Air field, something like that. Ran, rather. We ran for a week there. Running, I’m told, is bad for the body so I’ve been keeping up the yoga and hiding from the cold.

The NYE Accident

I have a bruise on my chin. I look like I’ve gotten punched, though only if you look up at my chin from the ground. Yes, it’s a bruise on the underside of my chin… along the jawline, you know.

It happened on New Year’s Eve and I wish I could say it was the result of some wildly fun moment but really it’s because I slipped and fell on the ice.

It was before we’d even left the apartment parking lot.

We were all dressed and ready to go. La Doyenne was wearing a charming black and white dress. Her boyfriend was in jeans and a button down (the new club casual uniform) and I was wearing jeans and a sweater. Jeans and a sweater because it was 15 degrees when we left and only 4 degrees  by the time we were heading home.

With these duds I was also wearing my boots: knee high, black, with heels. Right.

He had gone down the stairs first  and then I followed. A step that I had trod when I’d arrived, and countless times before that, without incident sent my feet flying out from under me. Not just out from under me, out from behind me leaving me to fall on my face into the deck and accompanying cement slab.

Fortunately, I had the good sense to lift up my head neatly avoiding a broken nose; hence the bruise. Another fortunate thing is that the girl with pants on was the one to discover the ice. I know how it is to slip and fall in a dress and it’s far worse than slipping in pants simply because there’s so much skin to ice contact. Yet another fortunate thing is that I made it away with only a bruise and a couple of gashes.

That Christmas When Everyone Fretted Over the Weather

“You know, you should really leave soon,” he said to me. It was JJ calling from five floors down. “I’m leaving at noon, I’ll take you to your car. It’ll probably need to be scraped.”

He was right, it would be in need of a good ice scraper. I agreed with him on that.

“I can’t leave yet,” I said.
“Are you at least going to leave early?” he asked me. I told him I was leaving around 4. He scoffed at the idea.

Almost immediately I received a call from M Marine. I missed it but he left me a message saying that he was watching my weather and I should probably leave early. He then sent me a text saying the weather in my state was about to get bad and I should leave now if I could.

I called him back, because I didn’t actually listen to the voice mail he left. He told me I needed to leave now if I could. “I’ve been watching the weather there and here both,” he said calmly, “and if you left right now you might miss everything.”

I hung on until 2:30, scraped the ice off of my car, and headed south for Christmas. I was nearly to the state line when my mother called to ask where I was – apparently she’d been told I left at noon. I asked what the weather was like and she said it was doing nothing and was 40 degrees out. She was inside a church though, so I called M Marine to ask him.

“Hang on, I’ll go look.” A moment later he told me there was no precipitation but there were gusty winds. “About 36 degrees. We won’t be getting really bad weather for another hour. Will you be home by then?”
“Yea, I’ll be home. I’ll call to let you know I’m safe.”

I hung up and found a new text from JJ telling me that the weather up north was officially bad and he hoped I’d left. Also to call when I got there so he knows I wasn’t dead.

And all the time I was being annoyed by the constant pestering, I reminded myself that it’s better than not having anyone who cared at all.

I arrived safely, called everyone I supposed to call, and was asked this question by M Marine:

“How’s the car?”
“Well, it has little icy strips along the side where the rain froze. And also the antenna looks like a skewer of ice cubes. The side mirrors have a centimeter thick coating of ice. There is a little accumulation of street sludge behind the wheels.”
“… that’s good… but I guess I meant that whole problem you had with starting it.”
“Oh, that’s fine too.”

Again, good to have people fretting over you.