My college magazine just sent out an email asking for stories about people's failures, or perceived failures. They've focused so much on success, they said, that they thought it would be helpful to examine the stories of other people who've not attained measurable success. Well, aside from taking offense at my inclusion in this email, I thought, I have a lot to say on this subject. Success, my lack of it, failure, my perception of it, have been the continuing story of my life for several years.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking this has to be a post about how my failures really aren't failures, it's really my definition of success that needs adjusting. Well, maybe you're not thinking that, but I am. And I only part-way agree. By some outward measures that I value, I have failed. I haven't published anything other than a couple of poems in Salvage Magazine, which seems to only exist in Chinese now. After getting an "I-Almost-Took-This-But-Decided-Not-To" personal rejection from a very famous agent for my first novel, I sent my second novel to 39 (Three-Nine; Thirty-Nine) agents without being signed. Only two of those thirty-nine actually asked to see more of the manuscript before declining.
Furthermore, at my ripe old age, which I will not state, but I will say I would never make The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 list, I have only just purchased a home. I've been living on nothing, scrimping and not saving, without new clothes or vacations or the laser treatments I so desperately want for the sunspots on my face and chest, married to someone who has been in medical training for the entire 13 years of our marriage. I have no hope of new clothes or vacations for years, as I have debts and college educations for our two girls to pay, and now a home to maintain. Thank God my hair doesn't need coloring. And now that my husband has finally completed his grueling training, now that our children are well into school age, when I was to have the opportunity to focus on my writing, now that the economy has tanked, I need to get a job.
This was to be my time to work on my professional goal. This was to be my reward for the years I stayed home and worked part time at menial education jobs, some more rewarding than others. We both agreed having me home as a full time mom was a good thing, and we both agreed that even if I did work full time, that because I was a teacher my salary would have just gone to the nanny so it made sense for me to stay home; and we both agreed that spending the money my father had put aside for me was a good investment because it was an investment in our children, and I certainly don't regret staying home. But. But. Because I've been a mom, and have only worked part time, and when I worked full time, I worked as a teacher in a private school, I am trying to break into the workforce with basically nothing. Meanwhile, everyone I grew up with, and went to school with, is entering the prime of her profession, and has the clothes and the home renovations to prove it. To me, this is failure.
This is where I'm supposed to turn this piece around. I know what Wellesley magazine wants, and what I want, too. I want to see it all in a positive light. And in one way I do. That has to do with how I define success. If success means having lots of money and an important job, I do not have that. However, if success is performing well at tasks important to me, then I start looking a little better. I wanted to be a mom and to raise my children, and so far, so good. I wanted to be a writer, and I am one. Three novels and a few short stories, as well as some scattered poems is not bad for a busy mother and wife of a medical student, resident, fellow and now, finally, gainfully employed doctor. And I am newly focused on sending out stories, an option I haven't pursued intensively yet. I've got that persistence that keeps me flinging out the manuscripts as soon as they get rejected, and I am fairly sure that eventually, one of these stories will stick out there. When it does, I'll have a credit to state on my queries to agents for my novel. So, viewed that way, I am pursuing what I want to do, and I have done so all along. I may have sacrificed material gain along the way; but then, I guess I believed people when they told me that money and things don't buy happiness, a sense of fulfillment is most important.