Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Giant Muffin Cake

The problem with me is that even the smallest blip of failure sends me into a tailspin. You know, like: HOMG I failed to get this stain out of my shirt!1!11 I must be killed, preferably by stoning in the streets courtesy of several large bearded men.

Or slightly bigger blips, like: HOMG I didn't send that email one time!1!1! I must be killed, preferably by something a little more serious than large bearded men with stones. This time, I deserve to be eaten by lizards. And so on and so forth until the whole mess of my life escalates into some non-stop fantasy about the many and varied ways I could be punished for my long list of ridiculous failures.

But the thing is...I didn't realise how quiet it would seem, to really fail at something. To suspect you've failed at something much larger, like life, which really should have a fallout the size of Mt. Everest. Technically speaking, if I've failed at something as monumental as life itself, I should be stoned by lizards so big they might as well be dinosaurs, before being eaten by a giant vagina that mysteriously opens up in the centre of the world.

Or something like that. Something big, and impossible, like a world vagina. But no world vagina seems to be coming. For the last year, I've been deathly certain that I've failed at life - probably because I'm thirty-one and that's the age for these sorts of things - but all I feel is this odd kind of emptiness. I keep waiting for a lizard with stones in his hands to carry me off, for the mortal sin of enduring terrible agony at the hands of my boss then not wanting to be a teacher anymore, but no lizard comes.

I mean, for God's sake, man. I'm exhausted over here. When am I gonna be stoned? Just get on with it already! But nothing happens. Not even when I start in on the next life failure I'm certain is around the corner, just waiting for me: failure as a writer. Rejection, poor sales, bad reviews, a feeling of being shunned forever by God knows who...all of these contribute to my feeling of being a failure as a writer in an almost neverending spiral of doom and gloom.

And yet still I'm not freaking out. I'm just adrift on a sea of nothingness, waiting for my real life to begin. The life I thought I'd have back when I was still young and impressionable and knew nothing of lizard people or vagina worlds or the like.

Which just makes me wonder if I've moved past anger and denial and am now slap bang in the middle of acceptance. Here lies my life. Died aged twenty-nine. Still waiting for the rest of me to catch up, worse luck.

Or maybe it's just that I've become more practical, now. I realise that the tiniest thing - a thing you may not even think about, at the time of its thingness - is true happiness. That the real joy of life is in being safe and warm, and having someone to love you. That it comes from just that one moment when something went right for you for once - hell, some people out there never have anything go right for them at all.

For all the millions of times I've despaired over being treated badly or endured something horrible at work or been mired in the middle of some sort of writing failure, there are a billion people out there who don't even know what those things are. There are a million writers who never, ever even get to see one single solitary story published. There are a billion people who can't have a bowl of Angel Delight when they want one. Who can't cheer themselves up by watching The Office. Who don't have a husband who loves them - instead they have a husband who hates them or a husband that doesn't exist or the husband they want to have is the wrong gender or colour or religion or level of attractiveness.

But I have all of these things - the Angel Delight and The Office and the husband. So even if my career goes wrong and I never make it as a writer, I'll be okay. I'm sure I will. I spend most of my life thinking: I only ever hope for the tiniest little crumb of anything and never even get that most of the time, but the thing of it is:

I already have this gigantic muffin cake composed of a million crumbs, right here.


  1. I don't share your taste for The Office. I do get what you mean by the sense of failure, though. In my case usually it just comes in the form of people who should be getting back to you not getting in contact, or things that are supposed to happen just not happening. Things just go quiet.

    My solution, developed over a number of years of failure, is to dust myself down and put three more ideas out there. Usually one does end up working. More often, weirdly, all three end up working, which can be a pain. Or at least, makes for a very intensive time.

    The thing about writing, while I think about it, is that it does come with its own inbuilt letdowns. I send the file off, sometimes get to check proofs and sometimes not, then everything goes quiet and I don't hear anything until I randomly find out the thing's been published for a while already... As a writer, if you want to celebrate things you normally have to arrange your own celebrations.

    Finally, I'll leave you with the thought that if you do seriously want to be punished I'm excellent with a bullwhip and usually available at short notice!

  2. Giant bearded lizards are deathly afraid of Angel Delight.

    That explains everything.

  3. I get this. On so many levels, I really do. I think the problem with failure is not a single instance. It's the compounding over time that drives people (me) to seek out bearded men in the streets, armed with a satchel of rocks for their throwing pleasure.

    You're right in that husbands, junk food, and good books/TV are the best way to cope with...well...everything.

  4. I don't think anyone could look at you or your body of work and call you a failure. That said, I do understand feeling like someone ought to be pitching stones at you at any moment.

    Of course, we all hold ourselves to far different standards than everyone else does. But for what it's worth, I think you're shiny and brilliant, and I love your stories. You never fail to make me tilt my head, squint and look at things a bit differently and I LOVE that in an author. I never feel like I'm reading recycled material when I pick up a Charlotte Stein book. In short, you're an autobuy and I'm always thrilled that I did.

    You and your muffin cake are wonderful. :)

  5. I'm still visualizing being swallowed up by a giant vagina. Not the worst way to go. Now I'll probably have really weird dreams tonight.

    Failure or success at creative work is so hard to guess at. You never know. You just have to do it and let it go. If I were you I'd get a glass of some good beer and read a bunch of weird stories by Italo Calvino and when you're in the zone, write a story about a guy getting swallowed up by a giant vagina. It would definately get someone's attention.

    Just so you know - I've written that story! Right here! I shit you not, Might Viper Lady, I just remembered.

    It was a post two years ago on the theme of "the great outdoors" called "Natural Acts". You can read about getting swallowed up by a giant vagina right here:


    Just wish I were there to offer you a good beer while you read it.


  6. Fulani- I love your comments! You always say something extensive and well thought out. Makes me feel like I write blog posts with an actual point! And I would certainly take you up on your offer, but regrettably I'm of the "being the one carrying the whip" inclination!

    Kathleen- I KNEW it!

    Hailey- God YES the compounding! The compounding is the WORST. Nothing is truer than the straw that broke the camel's back. Glad I'm not the only one who feels this way, and not the only one who uses certain methods to make it all better!

    Bronwyn- you know you're mah favorit, rite? Mah favorit in the world. And you're right- I looked at my three shelves filled with books that have my writing in, and felt a little bit less of a failure. And then you say lovely things like that, and I feel even less of a failure. You are lovely, and right back atcha on all fronts. Big kisses, always.

    Garce- I do just that, only substitute "7up" for beer and "Stephen King/Margaret Atwood/Christopher Pike/Emma Holly" for Italo Calvino and you're there. As for your vagina story: I should have known you would!

  7. I couldn't wait to be 30 and that is when my life truly started. Now I'm 53 and life has just gotten better over the years. Do I have what others think makes one successful? Probably not but I've got my health and I'm happy. I wouldn't trade those for anything. You'll find your success. It will be different what you dreamed about, but it will be sweet success.

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  9. Charlotte, dear,

    I knew when you proposed this topic that you were thinking about your own failures. Except that from the outside, I don't see any failures at all. Every single thing you've published (at least that I've read) is brilliant. Like Bron, I will automatically grab anything with your name on it.

    Not sure that this helps, though. Until you see your own successes, they won't exist. But consider that perhaps the reason that you're not being punished for having failed is that you haven't - in anyone's eyes but your own.


  10. She- thank you. I hope so!

    Lisabet- I think we all doubt our own successes. Only when someone points them out from the outside do they become clear. Or sometimes they become clear over time! And thank you. You always help me to see.

  11. What Lisabet said. I'm sure you've baked your own delicious muffin cake!


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