Failure in A Minor (Some Other Girl)

Once there was a girl who wanted to be a music teacher. She started playing the piano when she was eleven and the clarinet when she was thirteen. She loved playing and wanted to spend her life helping others like her have that opportunity too.

Third person, you understand. She isn’t me. Some other girl.

some other girl

But actually that’s not the story. If you want to understand, it can’t start there. It has to start further back with a little girl who wanted to be a novelist. Or maybe an artist, she hadn’t quite decided.

some other little girl

The little girl loved reading books and drawing and making up her own stories, and she hated waking up early. She had heard that full-time writers and artists could wake up whenever they liked and never even had to change out of their pyjamas if they didn’t want to.

writing bliss

Sensible adults warned her that neither of these were easy careers. You couldn’t expect to make a living straight away, maybe ever, and you had to be really good.

She wanted to be really good.

She taught herself everything she could about writing from the internet, but most of what she learned was about bad writing. She read never-ending lists of mistakes and snide articles that dissected books she had loved to display their failing organs. She discovered plot holes and infodumps and two-dimensional characters and weak adverbs and purple prose and countless other things. There were so many ways to fail.

bad writing

Maybe in another story she would fight on, learn things, face her demons and emerge successful and glorious.

But we’re here for the other girl, the one who wants to be a music teacher. And we haven’t quite found her yet.

You still need to know that the little girl didn’t have many friends. This little girl, the one who wanted to be a novelist or writer (but wasn’t good enough), was a social failure. She didn’t fit in and was being bullied.

bullied

And she was lonely.

So she joined her school concert band and clarinet ensemble. She had some friends in these groups and made some more, and she found she could cleverly schedule her instrumental lessons over the parts of the school day that she most wanted to escape.

And there she is, the other girl. We’re back at the beginning. I’m sorry about the detour, but it was important, and we can begin properly now.

Once there was a girl who wanted to be a music teacher. She played the piano and clarinet. She loved escaping to play them and wanted to spend her life helping others like her have that opportunity too.

The girl went to university to get the qualifications she would need.

She thought it would be like music at school, only better because music would be all the lessons instead of just some of them.

music bliss

It wasn’t.

None of this happened to me of course. I didn’t have a bad experience studying music at university. I did not fall short again and again. I was not humiliated.

But maybe—third person—she was. That other girl.

failure

Maybe she was told that it was a character test, everything was a character test, and that she was failing.

She remembered how after-school cartoons had tried to teach her that failure wasn’t a bad thing, real failure was not trying and supreme failure was giving up.

But it felt bad. And she was trying really hard and it wasn’t helping.

She didn’t really understand. But she thought she did, and what she understood was that she couldn’t give up. Not ever, no matter how much she wanted to.

So she tried to remember that she was a girl who wanted to be a music teacher and kept going.

She endured a whole year of not giving up. And then she attended her last lesson before the summer holidays and walked out and went home. That other girl.

walking out

And as she walked out she said good bye and happy holidays and see you next year.

walking out with talking

Because she hadn’t quit. Everyone believed she would be back. She couldn’t even give up properly.

It didn’t start with a girl who wanted to be a music teacher, but where does it end and which girl does it end with?

Maybe it ended years ago, when the girl who wanted to be a music teacher got home at the end of the year wanting to be anything but a music teacher. She finally gave up, the most terrible and absolute way to fail. She changed degree (softly, safely via email), knowing that it was all character test, but not yet understanding that there is no grade.

quitting

 

It was not a decision she ever regretted, not even for a moment.

Maybe it ends now, with the little girl who wanted to be a novelist (or an artist) as a woman working as a writer and an illustrator. Perhaps, in the end, she did fight on, face her demons and emerge glorious.

writing and illustrating

But is it only okay that she failed then if she succeeds now? And success is a slippery term. She loves what she is doing and believes she is finally in the right place. But she isn’t making a living. And she has a chronic illness and cannot have another job to protect herself. And she is still frightened that she is not good enough, cannot be good enough.

(You have to be really good.)

do it anyway

Or maybe it ends someday yet to come, with a woman who sees her clarinet case and feels something close to curiosity. She will pull it out, wipe off the dust and put the instrument together. She will rediscover how the pieces fit, and then she will play again and enjoy it.

clarinet

But that’s not quite the right ending either. And maybe nothing will be. I think that this isn’t the kind of story that ends.

Because she’s still walking out. That girl, that other girl. Somewhere, always.

She was caught like a mosquito in amber as she pushed open the door, with all the failure crushing down on her and no resolution. So she is still smiling—a tired, fracturing smile—and still saying nice things to the people who made her feel worthless. And she is still telling them she’ll be back next year. And she is always promising she can do better.

(She didn’t mean to lie, but she did and it is caught too).

The moment is suspended, and then that other girl is dropped back into my life, sending ripples in all directions.

me

I am always heading away from her failure. I am always heading toward he failure. I am always her, failing.

But I understand the cartoons a little better now. Failure isn’t a bad thing.

(Even when it feels bad.)

21 thoughts on “Failure in A Minor (Some Other Girl)

  1. Aww what a heart-warming story!
    I particularly like the pic of the writing “demons”, but nothing beats the one of the dinosaur saying “do it anyway!” This really put a smile on my face :)

    1. I agree.

      But I tend to over complicate things, and I cant’ help but wonder about the precise definition of “trying” and where it begins and ends. I think the person in question usually knows, though.

      1. Yes. I used to be much harder on myself. Now I’m just proud of surviving with some dignity. I admire your openness and your words and drawings mean something to me.

  2. Life has failure… and sometimes you learn from it, sometimes you don’t. Not everything has a lesson, sometimes stuff just happens. But, and this is the tricky part… sometimes it is okay to quit. Sometimes you realize that a thing wasn’t what you thought it was OR you realize you don’t want it as much as you previously thought OR you find something else you want more OR you discover you’re better suited for another thing. What they never teach you is that sometimes it is okay to quit.

    1. Yes. Stuff just happens.

      Actually, after I quit music I had one or two people congratulate me and tell me it must have been a courageous decision. It was a very unexpected thing to hear and I never quite knew how to respond. I guess they had already figured out some stuff about failure and quitting that I hadn’t.

      1. Yeah… every time I hear someone say “quitters never win” I tune them out, because there is no such thing as absolutes. Sometimes you might need to quit a thing to move forward. You might even one day return to a thing with less pressure and stress if you can put it aside for a while.

  3. I AGREE WITH ALL THE COMMENTS SO FAR. I have nothing more to add, but did that ever stop me?

    I first “retired” almost 50 years ago and found that I could not make a living at (1) music (2) writing (3) art (4) cartooning. 4t-u-nately I had a dischwarsching jawb so I could eat and make minimum wage. it took 2 years for me to accept these ‘failures.’

    I gradulated frum kawleege and didn’t know what i’d do for werk (still don’t) but did decide I wanted nothing to do with (1) “big oil” (2) the government (3) and since I had endured an especially lame and insipid course in technical writing, decided also to never do that.

    of course I ended up working as the occasional technical report editor/writer for the state oil-&-gas regulatory agency. I guess … be careful of what you don’t wish for.

    cheer! keep up the good fight, and if THAT isn’t whatcher dewing, then continue to passively roll over with the pummelling of the BAD fight.

      1. there’s a mix sumtimes, to be sumwhut shurr. but(t) sumtimes ya’ know it’s mostly “good” (warranted?). next lifetime i’m going to be, if not brilliant, werkin’ (more) awknitt.

    1. I can work a little from home (which is basically the time I spend drawing and writing). Healthwise, I’m not in a good position to tutor. And even if I was … I don’t know. I think my will to teach music is exceedingly dead at this point. I don’t think it could even rise from the grave as the undead.

  4. So, maybe it’s because some other girl I know, who definitely isn’t me, is going through her own “I’m not good enough” crisis, but she (that other girl who, again, totally isn’t me) just about broke down sobbing when she read the line: “success is a slippery term.”
    She totally felt like it spoke to her exact situation, and now she will be a lifelong reader of yours.

    1. Tell that other girl from me that she’ll be ok. Regardless of whether she is ‘good enough’ (and what even is that, really?), things will keep going and she’ll be herself and that will be magnificent.

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