It’s interesting how failure can be terrifying when there’s no threat of physical harm. In my case for example. I woke up during the night last night and what had woken me was the thought, “I am going to fail and this is terrifying”.
It went like this. First I woke with the thought, I am going to fail to tell this story. It is not going to happen. I am actually going to fail to do this. I cannot fucking believe it. Then I reflected on how I was feeling, lying there in the dark having this thought in the middle of the night; and the word I gave to my feeling was, terrified.
It all sounds a bit overwrought now as write about it in the morning in a Starbucks brightly lit, watching people go to work outside in the rain. But that doesn’t mean the thought was wrong. And, as I said, it’s interesting.
It’s interesting I’m a living thing that can experience terror (yes, overwrought, but I’ll stay loyal to my pre-dawn self) at the prospect of failure with no material consequence. I’m thinking I’m going to fail to tell a story. It’s a story. I’m not failing to outrun a lion. I’m not swimming across a lake and thinking oh shit miscalculated looks like I’m going to drown. Nor am I being paid to write a report and waking up in the night realizing the report is due today and I’ve done fuckall I’m going to be fired how will I pay my bills. No, that’s not the case here. Nothing’s threatening my ability to be alive.
Here’s where I get a little annoyed because I just realized that I’ve led myself to the observation that humans are meaning-dependent creatures, and sometimes it seems like every route that I take leads me back to this observation and I don’t know why that bothers me but it does. What do I have against it? It’s an incredibly important observation.
It goes like this. One way it goes is like this. I’m a living thing that can experience terror at the prospect of being shamed. But what is that. Shame – it’s not drowning. I can be terrified that everyone in my group will laugh at me because I’m pathetic. Or everyone will yell at me or shun me because I’m bad or disgusting. What I’m fearing there is called shame, which I’m not quite sure how to define at the moment but it’s about social exclusion and experiencing oneself as worthless. It’s not drowning or losing the ability to eat but, isn’t this interesting, people who experience terrible shame sometimes take actions to make it have a material consequence such as drowning or not eating. They go and purposely drown themselves. Hang themselves. Cut themselves. Starve. I know people who have done some of that. What sort of living thing is this, that it can be driven to harm itself and kill itself by shame. What a threat to life is shame.
There’s another way it goes. I’m a living thing that can experience terror at the failure of a dream. Terror might not be the best word for this but it could be in some cases. And this isn’t about shame or not necessarily. For example you may know someone like this. There is a woman who all her life really wanted to have a baby. She worked towards it, she dreamt about it, gave up many things she loved and wanted in order to pursue this more meaningful thing; this dream is basically what was giving her life purpose and helped her to make sense of so much of the unfair shit in life that she often had to endure. This dream is how it was all going to change. And then one day she discovers, or it dawns on her slowly over the course of many many days, and maybe she suddenly wakes up in the middle of the night and it’s a thought in her head that is telling her: this is not going to happen. She is going to fail. It Is Not Going To Happen. And she wonders what she’s feeling; and the word she gives to her feeling is, terror.
So there is terror at the prospect of losing what was giving your life a purpose. Whatever “purpose” means. Maybe purpose is whatever that thing is that enables you to make hard decisions and justify and organize all your suffering. Lose that, and all your suffering comes crashing back at you from where you’d put it all away. But that’s a huge topic and not for now.
I guess telling a story could be a purpose like that. But now I’m looking at what I just wrote and I’m thinking, no, how did I talk my way into this point here. I’ve basically been led to think about people who have it so much worse than myself. In my case, it’s not that big a deal. It’s not about losing my life purpose. Jeezus. Not that big of a deal. But a dream, of sorts, yes that could make sense. Terror at the failure of a dream.
And yet, when that dream is a story, and we’re talking about the failure to tell a story… I mean really. How can a person fail at telling a story. You just tell it. Don’t you? What’s the problem.
Fucking unbelievable. Yeah I guess that’s a bit of a shame.