I finished a small art quilt over the weekend. If you follow the photoblog, it's the fiber art quilt I was working on last month. I didn't want to go back to it, but I needed to get the thing finished, so I could burn it as soon as I was done.
Why, you ask? Because despite great care, effort, focus and many hours of work, I did not achieve even remotely what I had hoped to do. Or, in simpler terms, I failed.
I try to learn something from my failures (after I whine and sniffle and kick a few pillows first.) Here's what this experience taught me.
1. Other people's fiber art is beautiful. Mine? Is not.
2. Fibers are pretty until you put them on things. Then they just look hairy.
2a. Colorful, but hairy.
3. Beadwork does not camouflage this effect.
3a. It doesn't make it look ethnic, either.
3b. Actually it has kind of the same effect as putting lipstick on an orangutan.
3c. A great big hairy orangutan.
4. Setting aside something you think is ugly for a couple of weeks does not make it look prettier.
5. I now believe contemplating using glitter glue between the beadwork in another effort to disguise said hairiness is the art quilter's equivalent of hitting rock-bottom.
I was disappointed, sure. I spent a couple of weeks pinning and stretching and rearranging and tacking down those blasted fibers. I could have made something I know how to make instead of wasting my time on this stupid project. I wouldn't have little bits of fiber all over the sewing room, either. I know I'll feel better after I paint and sulk for a couple of days, but still. All that work!
But I learned something else in addition to all of the above. Aside from the glaring fact that fibers are not my friends, I need to do this again. Oh, believe me, I'll practice on something simpler, smaller, or less involved than an art quilt when I make another go of it. But if I give up after just one attempt, those evil quilt-ruining fibers will win. No furry textile string on this planet is going to get the best of me.
As writers, we all have our failures. We envision something, but try as we might, we can't translate it to the page. We submit, only to receive nothing but rejections. We publish, and watch our book go unnoticed, or worse, tank. There's more than one novel sitting on my hard drive or filed away in the cabinet upstairs that I never finished, or never got an editor to read. I have several books that didn't sell well; I have a couple that hardly sold at all.
In today's society we're expected to succeed, and that's something we should all strive for, but I think we also have to expect to sometimes fail. No one does everything perfectly every time. Sometimes it's our fault, and sometimes it's simply the luck of the draw.
I don't like failing, but I understand that failure can be friend or foe, fuel or frustration. I can let failure depress me (and there is nothing more depressing than looking at an endeavor I botched) or I can let it fire me up. Failure often makes me angry, but it also feeds my determination. I didn't do something right, then I'll try again. I'll remember what I did the last time. I'll use that to guide me, not grind me down.
I love quilting and making beautiful things, so it's embarrassing to have something I quilt turn out to be not so pretty. But it's also good for me. I know I need an ugly quilt every now and then to remind me that I'm not perfect, and I need to keep learning from my mistakes. Whatever we do, it is just one thing, and we can always do another thing.
I'll have a picture of the ugly quilt up on the photoblog tomorrow -- and I'm not going to burn it. I'll probably hang it up on my Wall of Why. In the meantime, how do you guys cope with failure? Do you think it's as valuable to our personal growth as succeeding is, or am I full of nonsense today?