I started off as a novelist.
(OK. That's not entirely true. I started off as a publicist. And before that, a waitress at IHOP. And before that --well, I'm going to save this "resume of failure" for later so please be patient.)
As a novelist, I often "fictionalized" events in my life that led me to call my particular kind of fiction writing "faction" -- fiction based on fact. My next book, Failure: A Love Story, then, will be my first attempt at "non-faction" -- non-fiction based on fact.
Whatever you or I want to call it -- Fiction, Faction, Non-Fiction, Non-Faction -- I loved writing novels. What's not to love? Sitting around all day in fake yoga pants writing about people you have known and things that have happened to you and then quickly changing a bunch of details before anyone has a chance to sue you. But after publishing four "factional" novels something unexpected happened:
I got tired of beating around the bush.
I got tired of writing about failure without actually mentioning it.
I got tired of hiding some of my most spectacularly brilliant failures behind "made-up" characters when all I really wanted to do was be straightforward and honest and come clean.
And most of all, I wanted credit for my failures. Instead of giving them away for free, I wanted, in the language of daytime television and some California therapists, to "own" my failures -- each of the super-jumbo-sized failures that inspired my four novels: getting dumped (Animal Husbandry); being romantically-and-reproductively-challenged well into my 30s (Dating Big Bird); being insecure about my spouse's ex (Her); and feeling like a has-been and a loser in your career (Piece of Work) -- not to mention my unpublished fifth novel, which was both inspired by a failure and also itself became a failure because no publisher wanted to publish it.
While you might wonder what makes me think I'm such a failure when outwardly, at least --given the fact that I'm a published author and Huffington Post blogger, I don't appear to be a failure at all -- I want you to know that this is precisely the point I want to make: that failure is a relative term and that anyone -- whether they look like one or not, or are one or not-- can feel like a complete and utter loser. Such is the wonderful upside of failure: anyone can succeed at failure!
And yet writing openly about Failure -- without the cloak of "faction" -- is an entirely different story. It is risky -- for the most obvious reason is that if I do a bad job, I will be accused of "failing at failure." That's a double negative --quite possibly the ultimate double negative -- and one of those things that tempts Fate and courts Disaster, which I don't like doing. Who doesn't have enough problems without going out and making more?
It's also risky because in addition to the whole topic of personal failure, there are many other kinds of failure across many disciplines -- physics, neuro-science, psychology, business -- and each specific type of failure -- cascading failure, single point failure, benign failure, power failure, to name only a few -- has its own signature, leaves its own scar, teaches its own lesson. Which means that getting lost in the forest of Failure -- or, not seeing the forest for the individual Failure trees -- is extremely likely.
But the probability of imminent and almost certain failure not withstanding, Failure is the topic I have chosen to write about, or the one that has chosen me -- such is the fatal attraction between us, and the depth of our bond -- and I won't back away from it, if for no other reason then because I feel I owe it to Failure to try to make the world understand him and see him in a different light. (I am at work concurrently on a book called Failures and the Women Who Love Them.)
And so, I'm going to ignore my fear of failure -- alychiphobia -- and ignore the nagging voice of reason that tells me that I'm on a fool's errand. Why preach Failure when you could be out looking for Success?
I'm going to board the Failure Train, take my Dramamine, fix my eyes on the horizon, and take the scenic route along the vast network of interconnected secondary and tertiary mistakes and errors and rejections and defeats that span from my present all the way back across my past.
And I'm going to figure out once and for all how and why Failure has so often led me to the unlikeliest of places: