Failure and Reprieve

This post has been in progress for more than two weeks. The title and idea came about even further back than that. It’s hard to trace the timeline of something ethereal: does it come into existence when the audience sees it, or when the idea is conceived?

Trifling nonsense aside, this has been a trying semester–for a myriad of reasons, perhaps my hardest yet–and words have at last come to challenge me. They stick to my tongue like tar and won’t say what I mean to say–or I don’t want to say what I really mean.

It’s like Alice all over again, but then, wasn’t that what I wanted to be? The mathematician-turned-writer-does-both like Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll himself? A moot point. A tangent. A space without definition, to be called “obvious” and “left for the reader to prove.”

What I mean to say is I’m exhausted. Mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. I need recovery. This is perhaps the closest I’ll get.

I’m the kind of friend you turn to for advice and I’ll tell you everything you need to hear, and if you’re lucky, if I’m loving, I’ll even say it like you want to hear it. I get that from my mother. She’s a Cancer, the guardian/protector/healer. Instead I’m a Gemini, but my dimension is fractional. I don’t even know how many sides I’ve got, and no one ever see the same me.

So while this semester twisted and turned, while time after time I was given the choice of saving someone else or saving myself, I fractured my spirit for the sake of others. And I like that, it feels rewarding, it feels good to be needed/loved/wanted/accepted. But it’s tiring to neglect myself, to be behind, to fail repeatedly. I’m a perfectionist. I don’t know how to process failure. I don’t know how to love/want/accept myself as anything less than perfect.

So now that I’m passed finals/graduation/moving home, I’m going to attempt to reclaim myself. This semester has broken me; somehow I’ve broken myself. I’ve felt this way once before, and it was a dark place, but now I know how to gather my pieces and mend them.

Words are a drug. They are a high, a release, and by capturing things in words, I expunge them from inside me. I never feel as faulted after writing out my faults. I never feel as imperfect after I detail my imperfections. If I’m dying down inside, I play the darkest, most depressing music I have. The shared frequencies uplift me. It’s time I write my own lyrics.

It’s time–more importantly–I face my failures, but also witness my successes.

I failed to study for my algebra class. I failed to do any of the homework all semester. But I managed to review before each test, and in the end I began to understand the material, and I passed the course with the required grade I needed.

I failed to stay atop my reading. Since March, I read almost nothing at all. But I also payed attention in class, continued to participate, and read extensively for my research papers.

I failed to touch my homework before it was due. Everything was done the night before. But it did get done, and on the occasion it didn’t, it had been optional anyways.

I failed to sleep. I stayed up all night mindlessly wandering the internet for hours. But in that time awake, I unwound the days’ stresses and came to appreciate the value of good rest.

I failed to get to the gym as often I needed it. Exercise soothes me, so I ignored it. But I remained active, walking to class nearly every day, and while I didn’t always eat perfectly, I did eat well for the most part, and toward the end of the semester, I went to the gym more.

I failed to begin research early enough. I turned in every major assignment late. But I completed my assignments within two days of being due, and with that extra time, I was able to learn a tremendous amount about my topics and write high-quality papers.

I failed to encourage or pay attention to those around me, and not only did this lead in part to a co-leader dropping from the position, in the end it also threatened a close friendship. But these experiences have helped me to become more attentive to others, I’ve been able to encourage my friends, and that friendship has been–and continued to be–reconciled.

I failed to give my time to people that mattered, rather than people of convenience. But these encounters have increased my awareness of issues, formed new friendships, and allowed me to appreciate those in my life I hold closer to my heart.

I failed to write in my journal as much as I would have liked to. But I recognize now that journalling is not the only outlet I have to relieve stress, and I know it’s there when I need it and when I am ready to write. And when I did need it most, I was able to journal actively.

I failed to take time to read for pleasure. But I did take pleasure in reading for school, choosing essay topics and courses that I thoroughly enjoyed studying.

I failed to love what I study. I’ve only come to hate it more strongly. But I’ve also come to recognize that my hatred is not toward the subject, but rather my inability to perfectly understand complex and abstract concepts. Moving forward, I now know to love my field unconditionally, I must study it ruthlessly and relentlessly until I understand it intimately.

I failed to apply for awards and opportunities that could’ve helped me succeed. But I know success is more than the awards I receive, and when I did put forth the efforts to apply myself, I was rewarded, either by the award or the reflection while applying for it.

I failed to finish an art project I owe to people who helped me get to Alaska last year. But I now understand that poetry cannot be forced, and the time away will allow me to approach it with fresh eyes and create a final product more worthy than any rushed effort could be.

I failed to learn enough about racism to know how I can help stop it. But I have listened and read and learned enough to not only know I need to keep going, but to want to keep going. And I’ve started having those hard conversations that will help me, and others, get there.

I failed to rid myself of biases and I feel like shit every day for recognizing it. But I recognize they are not entirely my blame, and while I have not removed them wholly from myself, I know this is possible and that I can–and someday will–achieve this growth.

I failed to change hearts and minds. All my words slipped into the ether like a dying man’s last breath. But I know now where my words can have the greatest impact, and I know that even where and when I could have said something, I didn’t, I also gathered my courage to confront others on multiple occasions–many more times than I would’ve done in the past.

I failed to forgive myself and continued to blame myself until I broke. But now I know I am more than my failures, and I know forgiveness is in reach, and that there is wholeness even in brokenness, and even brokenness can be beautiful.

My failures were finite, and though my successes were finite as well, they were more numerous. This entire year was a tiresome and challenging process. My academic schedule was maxed out with classes (I needed approval to take that many credits each semester) and some of those classes were graduate level. I then applied to graduate school, and this semester I met with professors to begin planning my master’s thesis. I also applied for Teach for America, and made it through each round and the final interview until I was accepted and placed in a preferred region. I also completed and submitted my petition for a fiance visa to bring my future husband to the U.S. Each of these things detracted from my time to study, and each of them will have numerous future gains.

Not to mention, in this year, I served as president of the GLBT student group, helping to rewrite our constitution, lead weekly meetings, and train a new board of leaders. I also almost single-handedly planned an entire service spring break trip in about a month. I don’t want to pride myself on making up for mistakes, but that’s pretty awesome, isn’t it?

But I also recognize this year wore me down to the very last fibers of my being. I went without true rest nearly all semester, and I know the weight of being separated from the man I intend to marry makes even the smallest things harder to bare. Now is my time to breathe, to sleep, to fall fully in love with mathematics once again, to cherish the friends in my life, to appreciate all the things I’ve done and move past my failures.

I’m the kind of person who burns at both ends, whose passion overflows and overwhelms, and it’s tiring. It’s exhausting. But which flames can I extinguish to live, when each together is what gives my life so much light that it’s worth living? These are open questions I still must consider, but I believe some honest rest will help me find the right paths to follow.


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