Skip to content

Is This Failure?

The Struggle, running between Ambleside and Kirkstone Pass, Cumbria

The Struggle, running between Ambleside and Kirkstone Pass, in the Lake District, Cumbria

While house- and pet-sitting in a tucked-away place in the Lake District, I’ve been reading a collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters, and it, coupled with our slow-traveling situation, has had me thinking about failure — what it is, whether I’ve found it, or whether, in fact, it’s something which one achieves only when one has succumbed to it. In other words, is it possible that failure cannot be put upon a person but is, rather, a garment with which one can only clothe one’s self?

At the very time of writing this post I should be leading a writing workshop in Lancaster, just outside the Lake District, in Lancashire.

But I cancelled the workshop due to an insufficient number of bookings. And we’ve had to do the same with our other planned workshops for the Lake District. Although in the life of an independent educator — just as with university professors — there are always some workshops and courses which don’t make, the canceling of all these workshops during our house/pet-sit here in Cumbria is a new phenomenon for my partner, Mufidah, and me. Minimal lead times to promote the workshops upon our arrival here was undoubtedly the key factor.

And while money is always tight for us — I won’t go into particulars, but you can get a sense here and here — things are particularly tight for us right now. But we’ve been here before, countless times, in fact. The phrase “running on empty” often comes to mind, such that there might one day be a book by that title. (Interested? Stay tuned of all such goings-on via my newsletter.)

Today is Saturday, 15 June. This house-sit ends on Monday the 17th. We arrive at our next one, in Scotland for three weeks, on Monday the 24th. At the time of writing, we have no idea where we’ll be laying our heads in between. Just as we didn’t know where we’d stay between leaving our hometown of Lewes and our previous house-sit just outside St Albans.

But the universe provided, just as it has provided on those countless other such occasions. And we have faith, too, though without any expectations whatsoever, that we’ll be provided for in a few days’ time.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in LettersBack to Fitzgerald.

Watching his life unfurl through the prism of his own words has been a rare, if sometimes disturbingly poignant, pleasure. Particularly so as they were penned, as letters are, in the present (or near present) rather than recollected and reconsidered from afar as is the case with retrospective autobiography. There’s an intimacy in reading his personal and professional correspondence which no after-the-fact account could ever touch as we witness Scott’s fame, and self-confidence, rocket to an almost unimaginable high as a young man only to plummet in the eyes of so many so soon afterwards as he struggled increasingly with the alcoholic habit he’d already begun at Princeton and which was perhaps exacerbated by the mutually destructive, and yet artistically fruitful, relationship between him and Zelda. A shared plummet which eventually led his wife to a string of mental institutions, and himself through a Sisyphean battle to, at once, stay financially afloat and well enough to write.

The battle was brought to a close upon his death, by heart attack, at 44 years of age. Zelda died seven years later in a hospital fire, locked in her room awaiting electroshock therapy.

And, so, was Fitzgerald a failure?

For certain, he was critical of himself. And he held regrets for not having seized more moments, sooner, to secure the success he achieved early on — by writing novels, literature, rather than the commercial short stories and Hollywood screenplays which just barely paid the bills and sent him scurrying from editor to agent to friend, asking for their help to carry him until his next story was sold or screenwriting gig arose. To be accurate, Fitzgerald distinguished between loans he requested throughout his career from his editor and agent, which he considered business loans, and those he requested from friends and which came late in his life, when he was struggling to pay Zelda’s hospital bills and to keep his daughter, Scottie, in college. These debts, he knew, would pressure him to write commercial rather than literary works.

But he didn’t give in despite incessant illness, alcohol addiction and a declining popularity amongst editors. On the contrary, his correspondence shows a determination that I can only marvel at given all that he was facing. Something of Scott’s boyish optimism and the ability to stir the imagination into new story ideas survived right up to the end.

Surely no one who knows of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary output — including This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, not to mention countless bestselling stories — while knowing nothing of the details of his life would consider him a failure. Yet not even the The Great Gatsby was a financial success in Fitzgerald’s time. That overwhelming success came posthumously, as it so often does.

But how many of us, if we were privileged to have been able to watch Fitzgerald’s life unfold in real time, might well have deemed him a has-been, we sitting in judgement of a man who had become an easy target, an opportunity seized even by his old friend Hemingway whom Fitzgerald had done much to bring to Scribner, and, specifically, to Max Perkins?

How many of us would have shrink-wrapped with the word failure one of the 20th century’s greatest writers had we been contemporary with him, thereby, knowing far more of his falterings in the public eye than of his epic struggle to succeed?

More to the point, who is anyone to squeeze anyone else into the ill-fitting box of failure?

I’d suggest that failure can only be assigned by the one who has deemed himself to have been so. And even then it’s very likely to be a hasty and wildly inaccurate assessment. We human-being folk are infamously bad judges of even our own failings, so ingrained is our habit to home in on, and exaggerate, the negative rather than to see the countless ways in which we’ve positively touched others’ lives.

Yet even if one deems oneself a failure — and says, or hints at, as much in the company of others — the latter overstep the bounds of good grace and human endeavor when they attempt to say as much on another’s behalf.

To admit of one’s own falterings, even if we cast them in language as failings, and to be able to find the humor as well as the tragedy in life not only requires insight and courage, the very act of humbling one’s self, particularly in writing, is indicative of a person who rises above rebuke by another. Those, on the other hand, who stand ever ready to admonish are like vultures awaiting easy prey, while the larger, more humble person rises like a phoenix in comparison.

On October 5, 1940, two-and-a-half months before he died, Fitzgerald wrote the following in a letter to his daughter, Scottie, who was studying at Vassar College and shortly to turn 19 years of age:

Once one is caught up into the material world not one person in ten thousand finds the time to form literary taste, to examine the validity of philosophic concepts for himself, or to form what, for lack of a better phrase, I might call the wise and tragic sense of life.

By this I mean the thing that lies behind all great careers, from Shakespeare’s to Abraham Lincoln’s, and as far back as there are books to read — the sense that life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat, and that the redeeming things are not “happiness and pleasure” but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle. Having learned this in theory from the lives and conclusions of great men, you can get a hell of a lot more enjoyment out of whatever bright things come your way.

Clearly Fitzgerald understood that struggle is not failure but, rather, the stuff of which life is made. Indeed, struggle — including the Socratic challenge to examine one’s own self — is what makes life meaningful, and enjoyable.

Since embarking upon this post on Saturday, 15 June, Mufidah and I were offered a place to stay in Edinburgh from Wednesday, the 19th through Monday, the 24th. We then had the good fortune to find a CouchSurfing host for the one remaining night, Tuesday, the 18th. And, so, we’ll be here in Edinburgh until the start of our next house- and pet-sit in Fife next Monday.

 


Photo: Sean M. MaddenSean M. Madden is a writer, photographer and slow-traveling digital nomad. He’s also Co-Founder & CEO of CreativeThunder.co, working with creative businesses and individuals, worldwide, to build tribes of loyal customers via strategic websites and visual storytelling. Interested? Click here.

Advertisements
78 Comments
  1. We can’t know success without failure. Our greatest achievements follow our greatest failures. Thanks for posting!

    June 20, 2013
    • Thank you for stopping by, reading the post and taking the time to leave your thoughtful comment. I really appreciate it.

      June 20, 2013
    • Yes. I think it’s right.

      June 25, 2013
  2. Your post was very well thought through. I always tell my children and the competitive swimmers I teach, that they learn way more from their mistakes than from their successes. My own father died young. In a letter he wrote to us to read when he died, he indicated that his real success in life was his family, in the end that was the only success that mattered to him.

    June 24, 2013
    • Thank you for writing your comment, and for sharing some of your own and your father’s stories. I noticed on your About page that you’ve been keeping a diary for thirty years. I’ve followed your blog, and look forward to reading more of your day-to-day life.

      June 24, 2013
      • Thank you Sean. Thanks a mil for the follow. I loved your title. It was one of those where you begin to think of what it means to you, before you even read the post.
        Oh and I forgot to say a big congratulations on getting freshly pressed. I bet that didn’t smell like failure!

        June 24, 2013
  3. napperscompanion #

    Thanks for a great post and the Freshly Pressed. I especially appreciated your connecting humility–the healthy kind–and the processing of failure. Peace and best, John

    June 24, 2013
    • Thank you, John. As for being Freshly Pressed, we have the WordPress editors to thank for that. Really appreciate your taking the time to read my essay, and to post your comment.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

      June 24, 2013
  4. Thank you very much for sharing your post.

    June 24, 2013
    • You’re welcome, Azar. Thank you for reading the post, and for letting me know you appreciated it.

      June 24, 2013
  5. It is very easy to label others as “successes” or “failures” based on a set of metrics that might, in fact, mean little, even nothing, to the person you’ve chosen to label.

    I live in a very wealthy part of the U.S., here everyone has a skinny blond, non-working wife-at-home, are privately schooling their children and live in huge houses. I have lived in the same small apartment for 25 years and drive a banged up 12 year old car. Yet…I have a lovely husband, good health, fresh food in the fridge, a thriving writing career and dear friends whose love and support I can count on. I feel — and did not used to — this is a tremendous amount of “success.”

    We will all die. Some will die leaving behind millions or billions of $$$$ or pounds or euros — and be publicly deemed “successful”, even if their neglected families might loathe them, their business associates may rue the day they met and all they did was get and spend…

    Others will (only) leave behind powerful memories and a lot of love. Which is truly of greater “value?”

    June 24, 2013
    • Thank you, Caitlin, for sharing your above comments in response to my essay. I see from your About page that you do, indeed, have a thriving writing career; and, I appreciate, too, all you’ve shared about your successful home life. I’ve also followed Broadside and look forward to receiving your posts.

      June 24, 2013
      • Thanks! Your life sounds like a terrific adventure.

        June 25, 2013
  6. Reblogged this on the year in between and commented:
    Thought this was a really interesting change of mind regarding what failure means!

    June 24, 2013
    • Thank you, Meg, for reblogging my essay. An honor. I’ve also followed your blog and look forward to reading about your adventures during your “year on”. I think it was a wise thing to have done — both the decision to take a year off and, further, to take the opportunity to start a blog as a means to reflect, in writing, some of your thoughts and experiences. In the meantime, I wish you all the best.

      June 24, 2013
  7. It’s nice to read some posts like this…thank you…

    June 24, 2013
    • You’re most welcome. Thanks for reading it, and for leaving your comment.

      June 24, 2013
  8. ianprichard #

    Thanks for a great post. I’m completely with you about failure only being so if it’s self-applied. I went through a stretch in my life not too long ago that I considered failing at life: I lost jobs, I lost my place in graduate school, whatever standing I had in my various communities disappeared, my friends and even family fell away. I couldn’t even write. And it was all my doing (though of course I couldn’t admit that then).

    Now though, looking back on that period, my isolated failures to do certain things do not add up to a large-scale failure in my life. I’ve learned from it, and although that doesn’t make it all up, it makes it something more than simply failure. And much like FSF and some of the other commenters have said, the ‘bright things’ are that much brighter for having known the darkness of setbacks and seeming failures. And if we can, as you said, find humor in our own failings, then we have conquered those instances indeed.

    I do find it interesting that FSF told Scottie she could learn this bit about “deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle” IN THEORY from the great men of history and great works of literature. I certainly couldn’t – I had to learn this, and continue to learn it, through the practice of struggling and emerging, struggling and emerging, struggling and emerging. It’s touching that he’s hoping his daughter can see the bright things in life while avoid its pitfalls, and perhaps it’s telling of his own regret over the trajectory of his life, a rather heartwrenching wish that he could have avoided his own terrible and soon-to-be-fatal struggles if he’d have only learned the lessons that others had left behind.

    Best of luck with your classes, and do enjoy your travels!

    June 24, 2013
    • Thank you, Ian, for reading my essay and for putting so much thought into your beautifully written response. Yes, loss can be a massive, heart-wrenching experience, and all the more so when it spreads like a cancer leaving us feeling empty, devoid of love, family, friends and colleagues, and perhaps, too, directionless, alone and misunderstood. But this experience can also help us to cherish life afresh, and appreciate even more so the simple things, in contrast to the darkness which in the moment might seem an utter, all-out defeat. F. Scott Fitzgerald tried hard to impress upon his daughter lessons he’d learned, to help her avoid mediocrity and complacence, and to live a meaningful, considered life. I was moved by his letters to her, and the ways in which he challenged her to not settle for the cheaply earned. But trying to pass along our own lessons learned to our progeny can be a none-too-simple task, particularly in our own time when any semblance of parental authority is collectively undermined by the tyranny of popular culture and the politicized media which promulgates it.

      Thank you, too, sir, for your best wishes.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

      June 25, 2013
      • ianprichard #

        Well said: “particularly in our own time when any semblance of parental authority is collectively undermined by the tyranny of popular culture and the politicized media which promulgates it.”

        On my better days, I assume the pendulum will swing back towards a more didactic style of parenting and child rearing that will teach the kind of self-discipline and determination that I learned as a boy – on worse days, I figure we’re in kind of entropic end-times. I think our society is in something akin to the father-daughter dynamic you talk about here, writ large. We hope the next generation will learn what to do from the lessons of the past without having to repeat the struggles that led to those lessons, or devise entirely new ones to learn the same old lessons. But likely we do have to go through the fire ourselves, unfortunately as that may be. I’m not one to entertain too much doom-and-gloom (at least anymore…), but a person does wonder what exactly it’ll take.

        All best, I

        June 25, 2013
  9. I always think that the more I fail or fall short, I have a more interesting story to tell. It’s not interesting to know that everything came easy to someone’s success. Otherwise, I would have hated the movie Money Ball. Good luck to you and your endeavors, and I can’t wait to hear your interesting story.

    June 25, 2013
    • Thank you, Josh. I’ve followed your photo blog as well, and look forward to seeing your work. Also, here’s my Instagram feed if you might like to connect there as well:

      http://instagram.com/seanmmadden

      June 25, 2013
      • Sean,
        Thank you for the follow. I followed you on Instagram. Diggin’ the pics and I hope that you like my blog as much as I enjoyed yours. Sort of new at this blogging stuff. I am definitely looking to improve my prose. Can’t wait to read more of your blog. Cheers new friend!

        Josh

        June 26, 2013
      • Thanks, Josh. Glad you’re enjoying my Instagram photos. Do you post your photos there as well? If so, I’ll keep an eye out for them.

        All for now …

        Sean

        June 26, 2013
  10. I completely agree with Caitlin Kelly’s statement above.We can’t judge someone else’s success or failure,especially when the person in question does not believe in the societal definition of success.

    However,there is something really queer about Fitzgerald’s posthumous success.I wonder why so many writers and artists find ‘success’ posthumously.

    June 25, 2013
    • Thank you, Srishti, for reading my essay and for leaving your thoughtful comment. I’ve read recently that The Great Gatsby only came into its own after the U.S. military distributed thousands of copies of the book to soldiers during WWII. Here’s an article I just found via Google for you: http://ow.ly/mmaCH

      With warm regards,

      Sean

      June 25, 2013
  11. Great post! I think it’s important that we know what failure is, because after we fail we can know what success is. I look forward to reading more posts!

    June 25, 2013
    • Thank you, Martin. I, likewise, look forward to reading your posts. My partner, Mufidah, and I earned our living teaching English — privately, on a one-to-one basis — while living in Burgos, Spain over the past year. I had also taught English in Spain on three previous occasions, during the summers of 1989 (straight out of university), 2007 and 2008.

      June 25, 2013
      • Great! I hope my blog, and the many others out there can help you and your partner.

        June 25, 2013
  12. Jessica Slavin #

    Oh, this was just so lovely. And needed. Thank you for your writing. And I am glad you found a bed for those nights!!

    June 25, 2013
    • Thank you, Jessica, for reading the piece, for leaving your thoughtful comments, above, and for reblogging the essay on your site. And, you’re most welcome!

      I look forward to reading your blog posts as well.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

      June 25, 2013
  13. Jessica Slavin #

    Reblogged this on jessicaslavin and commented:
    “By this I mean the thing that lies behind all great careers, from Shakespeare’s to Abraham Lincoln’s, and as far back as there are books to read — the sense that life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat, and that the redeeming things are not “happiness and pleasure” but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle. Having learned this in theory from the lives and conclusions of great men, you can get a hell of a lot more enjoyment out of whatever bright things come your way.”

    June 25, 2013
    • As previously noted, thank you for reblogging my essay on your website. An honor.

      June 25, 2013
      • Jessica Slavin #

        I hope more people read it, as it is wonderful. I also hope I didn’t breach etiquette by failing to alert you I was going to re-blog it. I assumed you’d get a notification of some sort.

        I look forward to reading more of your posts, and Mufidah’s. What an interesting life.

        June 25, 2013
      • No worries, whatsoever, about your having reblogged my essay. See the copyright section in the lower-left corner of my blog. I’ve, therein, explicitly said WordPress.com bloggers are welcome to republish my posts using the Reblog feature (which automatically provides proper attribution in the form of my byline and a link back to the original post). And brilliant that the three of us are now connected via each other’s blogs. Be well, Jessica.

        June 25, 2013
      • Jessica Slavin #

        Phew. And, best wishes to you, too.

        June 25, 2013
  14. Probably success and failure are concepts better suited to projects than to entire lives, let alone human beings. Graveyards are equally full of enough of both to render the distinction moot. Great essay.

    June 25, 2013
    • Thank you, Mikels, for reading my essay and for leaving your insightful comments. I think you’re right, particularly in your penultimate sentence. Concepts, each and every one of them, die a quick death the moment our dichotomizing minds come to rest. Be well, sir.

      With warm regards,

      Sean P.S. I’ve followed your blog and look forward to seeing what you continue to get up to in your retirement which involves much the same sort of thing as your working days.

      June 25, 2013
      • Thanks; I hope you find my ramblings interesting, or, at least coherent.

        June 25, 2013
  15. Thank you for this beautifully written post. It resonates with me because I have learned, just as you say so wonderfully here, that failure is a label that only I can clothe myself with. No matter others’ opinions of me the only one that really matters, the only one that can truly affect me is the label I choose to accept and wear. I know I am not a failure because when I encounter a set back I examine it and search for the lesson. I have taken most of my past “failures” and learned lessons from them, I only consider an obstacle or set back a failure if I do not find a lesson within it. As I taught my children when they were growing up, “you cannot truly appreciate the sunny days without experiencing rainy ones.” I believe it is the same with success, you cannot appreciate the successes of your life without experiencing the “growth opportunities.” Adjusting our perspective to examine the positive, rather than the negative, in our lives is a vital first step. Acknowledging that we appreciate the better things in life more if we struggle for them is another.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    June 25, 2013
    • Thank you, Karen, for taking the time to write such a lovely response to my essay. And I, likewise, look forward to reading more of your posts. In the meantime, I wish you all the best …

      With warm regards,

      Sean

      June 25, 2013
  16. grahamwphillips #

    Straight from the heart Sean, intense, fabulous!

    June 26, 2013
  17. ordinarybutloud #

    I was just pondering the meaning of failure myself. Thanks for this post. Your life choices are interesting and courageous. I’ve enjoyed reading about them.

    June 26, 2013
    • You’re welcome. Thank you for taking the time to read, reflect upon, and write in response to my post.

      I’ve just been reading your latest post, Doubt, and see that you’re already writing, and publishing, in the form of your own blog (albeit with an About page that’s calling to be fleshed out). I suggest to my writing students that they focus on the verb — the act of writing — rather than on the ephemeral-at-best title of writer. If you’re writing, the latter takes care of itself and needn’t be called into question. At the end of the day it’s just another concept, like failure. It has no real meaning in and of itself. But the act of writing does — in the very doing, before, and irrespective of, deciding whether or not to share the results with another person. That’s another of my constant refrains. Keep the act of writing and the decision to share wholly separate. That way you’re free to write as courageously as you like — from the heart — and less likely to fall into the trap of self-censoring and pre-judging your work.

      June 26, 2013
  18. all the great achievers have spoken of their struggles as stepping stones. This is so beautifully written and gives an insight into FSF – you have tempted me to read more of his work (have just read The Great Gatsby, shame people understood it and celebrated it posthumously)
    thanks for your post and congratulations on being freshly pressed. Good luck!

    June 26, 2013
    • Thank you. I’ve just shared your most recent blog post with my partner, Mufidah, as we’re hoping to spend considerable time in Turkey, and Greece, at some point in the not-too-distant future, God willing. Lovely post and photographs.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

      June 26, 2013
      • Am glad you liked it and I hope you and Mufidah do go there soon (of course, once things are much more settled there).
        And when you do get there, you will realise that my post couldn’t even scratch the surface of that country.

        There are many things that I couldn’t include in the post either, like the ‘Tarlabasi Sunday bazaar’ (where the gypsies live) off the famous Istiklal and the best places for kofte (am a vegetarian).

        Am sure you will have these details under your belt.

        Thank you for stopping by and appreciating. Hope you two have a fabulous trip.

        Best,
        Moodsnmoments

        June 26, 2013
  19. Thanks again to Freshly Pressed for pointing me towards a wonderful post. This question of failure is a fascinating one. More and more I feel that the important aspect of “failure” has more to do with self-judgment and self-analysis than anything else. People who don’t perceive themselves as failures are usually oblivious of the fact that others consider them failures. It’s only when we cast this judgment on ourselves that the opinion of society begins to matter. It’s a black hole really because you could be leading a life that on the outside seems completely successful but still consider yourself a failure or have one aspect of your life make you feel like a failure completely. I don’t know how to live this but I think spending time wondering if you are a failure is a waste of our short lives. I agree with Fitzgerald that life is about struggle and transformation and not reaching that “happy place” where all is good. But can’t we do that without the late nights of self-chastizement and judgment?

    June 26, 2013
    • Firstly, thank you for thanking the Freshly Pressed editors for selecting this essay from the roughly 1.59 million WordPress.com posts published each day (derived from the WordPress.com Stats page). It’s a real honor, and I’d, likewise, like to thank them, herein, for doing the same.

      Secondly, well said, about all you wrote in your comment on the topic of failure.

      Thirdly, I think your blog — The Flash Cook — is a great idea, and wish you all the best with it. And as a fan (but-not-often-enough baker) of homemade bagels myself, I’d like to: 1) email you Mufidah’s and my postal address whereabouts on a regular basis (this changes frequently) so that you can overnight-delivery them, direct from Chicago, and 2) say that the story of your daughter and the doorman is brilliant, and brilliantly written.

      Hungrily yours,

      Sean

      June 26, 2013
      • Ha! Thanks very much and if I do go into the mail order bagel business, you will be the first to know. :)

        June 26, 2013
  20. A really thoughtful post – thank you. A friend and myself had a coffee and a chat about just this very subject, only yesterday.

    May I, in turn, share with you this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.’

    June 26, 2013
    • You’re welcome. Thank you — for reading it, and for writing your above comment in response. Yes, an apt and memorable quote.

      I look forward to reading more of your blog posts as well. What a privilege to be able to read your grandfather’s essays. With regard to a quote from your latest post, “Besides, God was on the side of the righteous”, here is an Instagram photo I took just over a week ago, in an old graveyard in Scotland. Note the closing quip.

      Also, in case you’re not able to see the title I gave it, here ’tis, complete with accompanying hashtags: “Blasphemy & Propaganda, #Lamington, #Scotland #WWI #StateChurch”.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

      June 26, 2013
      • Thank you for sharing the picture. Belief is such a weird thing, isn’t it? It’s mind-boggling to think that the generals on both sides believed that they were doing God’s will. Perhaps it was a way of shifting the responsibility.
        There are some haunting pictures of dead soldiers in yet another fascinating book I’m reading – ‘The Pity of War’ by Niall Ferguson – one in particular came to mind when I saw your photo of the gravestone. It’s from the album of a German soldier, and is captioned (I assume in the album) ‘Dead Scot at Fosse 8’. The body is alone on churned ground. Seen from the side, his hand is up by his face which is turned toward the camera, and his kilt is flung a little way up his thigh. I guess he spun as he fell. It’s a simple but haunting image not even particularly shocking (in itself at least) but it has stayed with me. The pity of war, indeed.
        However, I hope your travels are going well, and look forward to catching up with your blog
        All the best
        Gill

        July 3, 2013
      • Hello Gill,

        You’re most welcome. Yes, I suppose the best one can hope for is that the generals on both sides truly believed they were doing God’s will. It’s, however, highly doubtful. But societal-shaping forces (state churches, controlled media, anti-educations systems, to name a few) in their respective home countries (which were being deliberately ripped apart, as in WWII and onwards ho, by the powers that stand behind the facade of politics) — again, as in the case of war, generally — stand ready, always, to frame murderous and highly profitable wars through the prism of false (anti-)patriotism and false (anti-)religion. And the masses and (well-“schooled”) pseudo-elite fall for it every single time, or else protest to no avail (e.g., Iraq). Niall Ferguson aligned himself early on with the powers that be and that willfully tear societies apart as a means to prepare and implement world government on behalf of central bankers and their puppets. And he’s been handsomely rewarded, as puppets are.

        Thank you, too, for catching up with my blog, as you say, and for having read my latest piece. Really appreciate your having done so.

        With warm regards from Fife,

        Sean

        July 3, 2013
      • Hmm, now I’ve looked into him I see what you mean – although his viewpoints are quite different in the book – unless I missed something, which is perfectly possible – I’m an ‘accidental tourist’ in this mysterious realm of academia and research! Enjoy Fife!
        All the best

        July 3, 2013
  21. Interesting and introspective post…I think failure is ever-evolving, both across time/place and also throughout the life of the beholder.

    Cheers to you,
    Courtney Hosny

    June 26, 2013
    • Thank you, Courtney. I’ve just followed your One Week to Crazy blog and your Twitter account, and look forward to reading some of your work.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

      June 26, 2013
  22. We can’t judge someone else’s success or failure, especially when the person in question does not believe in the definition of success. And not every one of us are same in mind and body; each of us are different.

    June 27, 2013
    • Thank you for taking the time to read my essay, and for leaving us with your above written response. Much appreciated.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

      June 27, 2013
  23. Failure is assessed personally. We cannot judge another’s successes or failures from what we see, as we all see differently.
    But ultimate failure, where there is no turning back, no recovery, no possibility of success is when we have hardened our hearts to love. When love can no longer affect us we are without hope, we can not hear the voice in our hearts which say “You are more precious to me than gold or precious stones, than life itself. Let me help you, let me lift you up and carry you on”.

    June 28, 2013
    • Thank you, Jennifer, for your lovely comment. Well said.

      June 28, 2013
  24. Hello, I really enjoyed that!The only person that can decide if the label failure is warranted is the individual. What if the situation was beyond their control? What if they allowed other thought, belief, truths or will other than their own to derail their path but come to realize it and reclaim their destiny? Fitzgerald gave into his demons and the world according to man and we are all guilty of that at one time or another but he never conquered this and that is sad. Who do we label failure? The people that help drive a person to disaster or the person who gave in?

    June 28, 2013
    • Thank you, Hannah, for reading my essay and for taking the time to write out your thoughtful comment, above. I’m touched that you enjoyed the piece.

      If I understand you correctly, it seems we agree in large part, though having read Fitzgerald’s letters (and perhaps you have as well), I’m perhaps less comfortable judging whether or not he gave in to, or conquered, his demons. As with what I’ve said about failure, I don’t think any of us are in a (knowing) position to say that of him, or of anyone other than ourselves.

      I enjoyed reading about your journey via your About page, and have followed your blog so that I’ll be able to read more of your work.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

      June 28, 2013
      • Thank you, and thank you for the reply. I’m intrigued with your blog, and also how your living the writing dream in harmony with such beautiful ohh to die for places in which to create !

        July 1, 2013
  25. I appreciate your candor when ruminating on failure. We want everything to be a success and it is not always the case.

    July 1, 2013
  26. Beautifully written expression of a sentiment I have considered many times in my life. It sometimes seems I move from one crashing need to start over to another with brief highs in between. Yet, I would not change my choices and actions, they were my choices and they brought me where I am. Yet again I am starting over and after the brilliant opportunities I was in just previous it felt that I was giving up and failing until I considered I did this to be with the man I love and so we could work on what we want together.

    Growing up, I watched my parents build businesses and hold a good name in business but lose everything over and over. I did not plan to follow in that particular set of footsteps, but the choice to live my own path and not compromise in things others think are small and unimportant, led me down an often harsh but often beautiful road. One thing you learn is to live in the moment and see the beauty in what is here and now wherever you are. Being the kind of person that generally fits into society like a square peg in a round hole, I had to learn to see what my goals, needs, pleasures, and values were without concerning myself with the views of others.

    This in no way removes the stress of these times, and the pain in the losses involved. However, it keeps me together, it binds me to my husband, it allows me to find pleasure, and it builds acceptance of the process to come. It is gratifying and strengthening to read words like yours giving logical and emotional evaluations of these very sentiments and needs. How we view ourselves, our needs, our goals, our efforts, our lives, and our world cannot be tied into any universal dictation or cultural stigma. Mother taught me to stand on my own and here I stand with my husband and my cats looking at a life that has gone in many very unexpected directions.

    I will share this on my Facebook.

    July 1, 2013
    • Thank you, though that doesn’t seem to cut it, somehow. What you’ve written is beautifully said as well. Your third sentence registers. Let me go resurrect a line from my application essay to St. John’s College (Annapolis, Maryland), written in 2001 when applying to graduate school there. Okay, got it. I’ve decided, in fact, to paste the opening of the essay herein, so that you have the context as well:

      Like St. John’s College, my place in the world is the result of a string of serendipitous events, some of which felt like failures at the time, but all which carried me to where I am today.

      *****

      “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it come to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.”
      – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

      In my ideal, I would live life wholly without regret. To change an iota of the past, if it were possible, could throw me on a trajectory ending in places unrecognizable and far afield from the gift of the present.

      But there is a tender place in me that has held much regret, and held it fast for a seeming eternity. […]

      I think you’ll immediately recognize the similarity of sentiment here.

      You then go on to say, “Yet again I am starting over and after the brilliant opportunities I was in just previous it felt that I was giving up and failing until I considered I did this to be with the man I love and so we could work on what we want together. […] I did not plan to follow in that particular set of footsteps, but the choice to live my own path and not compromise in things others think are small and unimportant, led me down an often harsh but often beautiful road. One thing you learn is to live in the moment and see the beauty in what is here and now wherever you are. Being the kind of person that generally fits into society like a square peg in a round hole, I had to learn to see what my goals, needs, pleasures, and values were without concerning myself with the views of others. This in no way removes the stress of these times, and the pain in the losses involved. However, it keeps me together […]”

      Exactly. And, so, thank you for writing this heartfelt home truth. It fits my life to a tee, and is, likewise, beautifully well said.

      This is why one writes, or at least why I write — to give voice to our innermost truths, and the truth of the world as we experience it. And to cut through the manifold lies of society in so doing.

      Thank you, again, for writing. I look forward to reading more of your work.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

      July 1, 2013
      • To live without regrets, that has been my choice for many years. I cannot regret my actions or problems, they were my choices. I love that Thoreau quote but regret is a damaging focus on the past and wishful nostalgia for what never was or will be. I am proud of who I am regardless of others view of my success and that is a success. I enjoy the moment and appreciate the beauty of wherever I am, that is another success. For me, these are acceptable prices for my choices, my brother can keep the high power corporate life.
        I appreciate your sincere compliment.

        July 2, 2013
  27. Sean, I wish I had more time to read your post properly, and to send an appropriate reply. Alas…. But i enjoyed reading what you say, and it has given me more food for thought. Strangely, i have recently been examining my life and have asked myself whether i wold choose to call it a failure, and why, or – if not – why not. Maybe one day we need to have a long chinwag!

    July 2, 2013
    • Thank you so much, Magdalena, for reading (even if quickly for now) my essay. I really appreciate your having done so. And, yes, I would love to have a good, long chinwag with you one day. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since our last one, sharing a bench on Cliffe Bridge, overlooking the River Ouse. Nothing would beat doing so in person, of course, but if you’d ever like to talk via Skype (sean.m.madden), or telephone, just let me know.

      But, until then, I can say from an outsider’s perspective that your life seems incredibly rich, and you’ve no doubt positively touched so many people — in your work as well as in your day-to-day life. And you’re too beautiful and serene a person to come close to failure.

      All for now, Magdalena …

      With love and well wishes,

      Sean

      July 2, 2013
      • magdalenaportmann #

        Thank you, Sean!

        July 2, 2013
  28. Reblogged this on tylershepard1991.

    July 10, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Edinburgh Revisited: Places, Memories and Men in Skirts « Mufidah Kassalias
  2. On Being Freshly Pressed; and, A Preamble of Sorts | Sean M. Madden
  3. What a Year It’s Been | Sean M. Madden

Comments are closed.