When You Lose Your Mojo

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

photo credit: Joshua Franzos

Two weeks ago, I attended Failure:Lab, "a raw and intimate evening" where local celebrities took the stage and told their personal stories of failure to a packed Kelly-Strayhorn Theatre. I listened to four prominent men and women of Pittsburgh that night and I haven't been able to get their bravery out of my head since. The goal of the evening was not to provide train wrecks for the crowd to gawk at, rather it was to de-stigmatize the fear of failure and encourage intelligent risk taking. What a novel way of regarding it, I thought.

Failure is like a giant wave that knocks you down and recedes back into the ocean. The shame that follows it? Just like a lungful of saltwater. It feel like you're drowning even though you're on land. You retch. You choke. Your lungs and cheeks burn for what feels like years. We've all felt it. But failure, re-imagined? Failure with a new spin on it? Re-vamped. Re-branded. It's the new way to learn! It's all part of the journey! Who wants to sign-up? Anyone?

I considered what I might've said, had I been one of those brave people up there, then I realized that the novel I'm writing is already my attempt at making sense of some of my worst moments. I agree. I think failures are important, life-affirming stories to tell. They're humanizing. Bad decisions make for GREAT stories. But no one seems to tell them, especially in the fashion blogosphere, where life needs to be made-up, coifed, curated, stylized and perfected. Put your best foot forward. Make people wish they were you and had your life. I'd venture to say that nobody that is perfectly happy, with the perfect life ever starts down the fashion blog path. It's the gold rush of 2014. The current western female's American dream.

Someone confessed to me that my blog made her feel hopelessly inadequate. I stood there with my mouth open and blubbered something about that not being my intention at all. I went home and cried. Good God, what have I done? I was only trying to fool myself a little. Weren't we all aware that fashion is the ultimate illusion? Smoke and mirrors? No? If anyone could really, truly know how hopelessly inadequate I felt multiple times a day, maybe the world might be a better place. Some kind of universal understanding that, Hey, we're in this together and despite appearances, I too, by and large feel like

I used to work in an industry that impressed people. I appraised. I managed. I hired. I fired. People used to ask me a lot of questions about my job because it was a zany, fascinating world, but that doesn't happen anymore because I left it all to become a secretary. You heard it right. For the longest time, I experienced ego death every single time I met someone and they asked me what I do for a living. I'm an administrative assistant at a non-profit organization. Oh. That's nice. That's when they turned to my husband and asked him if he's a Canon or Nikon guy. For some reason nobody peppered me with questions about stuffing papers into envelopes or duplexing printers while they slosh their drink around. I used to have a peculiar and interesting job and now I'm normal.1 of the 2.4 million administrative assistant strong work force. 

You are not special. You're not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We're all part of the same compost heap. We're all singing, all dancing crap of the world.

                                                                                             -Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
Mojo gone. But to be honest, I was in need of a good humbling. I needed to swallow large amounts of vanity-laced saltwater. So much it was gross. I don't think I could be a decent writer without the repeated injury to my pride. It keeps me grounded. I know I am capable of much, much more but I am here, and right now I am a secretary. My workplace openly admits that I'm overqualified. It feels good to hear them say it, but I still get down on myself, so to them and to you, I say: I'm overqualified, some of the time.

photo credit: Joshua Franzos

If you hate it so much what keeps you there? Well, I don't hate it. I like the people I work with, they are my community and I don't want to let them down. I want them to succeed and if I can do that by stuffing envelopes or entering data, great. But here's the beautiful thing about being, just a secretary. I can do the job and write in my head. 

I'm always writing in my head, kind of like a background virus-scanning process you might run on a computer while you do something else. My brain is trying to debug character motivations or next steps in the story I'm writing. But I'm not a computer program, I'm a human and sometimes there are fatal system errors when fictional worlds and reality crash together. Sometimes I'll be thinking about combining two characters into one and I'll freeze in the work hallway because my brain shorts out.  Where was I going?...am I going to the copy room or am I going down to accounting? Sometimes I accidentally write my main character's name on my 1/2 eaten lunch before I put it in the office refrigerator. Oh, God and let's not forget that one time I accidentally answered the organization's main line, "Good Afternoon, Putnam Auction Galleries." (That's the fictional auction house in my book. Awesome job FRANZOS). 

photo credit: Joshua Franzos

photo credit: Joshua Franzos

photo credit: Joshua Franzos

Like I said, I'm over qualified for my job, only some of the time. But I am incredibly fortunate to have it and the kind of employers that want their employees to be happy. My work seems to understand, well, understand is maybe not the correct word, but maybe empathize...they can empathize with my desire to get this novel out of my head and onto "paper." It's been a year now since I requested to take an extra unpaid hour for lunch everyday so I can get over to the library and exorcise my demons write more. I make about $300 less a month because of my two hour lunches. I'm not going to lie, that kind of hurts, but that is the price of art and my sanity. It is what it is for now.

photo credit: Meryl Franzos

I'm three years into this novel and 60% done, almost ready to jump into the third act, where my main character runs away from Pittsburgh and takes a heart-wrenching road trip up the California coast. So close I can taste it. It may take longer than you want, but as heroes we must trust the journey. I've been reading Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces - the book about The Hero Journey or The Monomyth. This is the quintessential story-line every good hero, from Buddha to Pinocchio to Jane Eyre, will take. Failure is the "Belly of the Whale" stage. You tried, but you get swallowed. 
"But here, instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again...Allegorically, then, the passage into a temple and the hero-dive through the jaws of the whale are identical adventures, both denoting, in the picture language, the life-centering, life-renewing act."
                                                                          -Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

Now, when Josh and I meet people to network and schmooze, and people ask what I do for a living, I tell them. I'm a secretary and a writer. Even though I've never published anything but what you see here on this blog, I'm calling myself a writer because I do it everyday. Been doing it everyday for three years and I will likely be a writer until it's pried from my cold, dead, arthritic fingers. You are what you do. You do what you can. When you emerge from the jaws of the whale and wash up on that shore, you'll find that your mojo has been there with you all along. 

You want to know what's in for spring? Failure. It's the new success. So get out there and make a mess. It's healthy. It shows you're trying. Yeah, baby, yeah.

photo credit: Joshua Franzos

What I Wore:
Turtleneck: Gap
Tunic: inherited Vintage pajama top. Try Calligramme for vintage lingerie and pajamas.
Pants: past season Loft
Boots: Vintage Nine West Cloud 9.
Bag: Vintage Coach 'city bag'.

Your Bosom Friend in Pittsburgh,

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