OK I know this sounds crazy but I am beginning to wonder if failure is somehow a family trait. Why am I wondering, you ask. Because everyone in my family fails to achieve the goals and dreams they chase. At least so far.
I once knew a lady who became a world-famous author. We used to knock around the same small town in rural NSW. For obvious reasons I won’t say her name. We didn’t like each other much. She recognised my superior talent as a writer almost from the moment we joined the same Book Club. It was easy enough to spot the difference. Her work was tawdry and predictable. Mine was “out there”. It still is. In 2007 I won the Women’s Weekly/Penguin Short Story Contest and was asked by Penguin to present a manuscript for publication. I gave them an 80k word piece about an angel who latches on to a child genius. I called it Catch the Moon, Mary because my character seemed to have the weight of the world on her frail autistic shoulders. My entire Book Club was rooting for me, even the jealous girl who knew she couldn’t hold a candle to me as a writer. Two months later our worlds flipped. Penguin knocked back Catch the Moon, Mary saying it was brilliant but too unusual. Her predictable manuscript set in 20s London was picked up by a major publisher and translated into 35 languages. The lady is now a multi-millionaire living between Europe and Australia while I am struggling to make ends meet.
Her father was a successful businessman. Mine was an alcoholic who lost everything.
Her mother is a art dealer. Mine is a struggling artist.
Is there something in that?
Her family are wealthy hucksters. Mine has a long history of genius and loss. There are so many gifted people in my family who burn out early or turn to the bottle for comfort.
We all know the Kennedys are a tragic family. Tragedy seems to stalk and ambush them. We all know the Rockefellers are a lucky family. Are some families marked out for failure?
I have seen members of my family work hard and long and get nowhere. I have watched them struggle for years but courageously remain determined to make a difference. It is true that the members of my family who never give up, myself included, are working at the high end of the spectrum as far as product is concerned. The lady with the charmed life is peddling palatable dross.
So how to catch this elusive butterfly called success.
Is it simply perseverance or must one sell one’s soul?
The people I admire most: Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, John Keats, Truman Capote, Leonardo De Vinci, Michelangelo, the Brontës, Austen, never sold their souls and their legacies are gamechangers. For them, success came late or posthumously. Except in Capote’s case where success came far too early to be of much use.
So back to my original question. Is failure genetic? Maybe the attitude towards success is nurture rather than nature. Maybe your parents’ relationship to success is the yardstick by which you measure your own. My parents had dramatic and difficult relationships with success and failed to carve pathways I could follow. The lady I referred to earlier had no doubt at all that success was her right. Her inflated opinion of her work was seasoned in the family home where she was taught that willpower alone is worthy of reward. She certainly has willpower.
Catch the Moon, Mary was eventually signed by a small publisher in Scotland in 2015 but my beautiful book is still struggling to gain recognition. I guess my genetic code is set on making a difference and offering the world the best work I can. I cannot respect or admire people like Dan Brown or E. L. James who feed a starving world literary ectoplasm but bloody hell, they’ve made millions and in all honesty, I wouldn’t mind making a few bucks before I die.
The suicide of a beautiful model at the start of 2019 has made me think yet again about what messages the world sends women specifically and men in general. Why would a woman with a perfect body and fashionable lifestyle end it all?
Why indeed. Annalise was 46 years old, had her own apartment in fashionable Bondi, no money worries and a circle of friends. So what happened?
I don’t think it’s such a puzzle. The lady was four years away from 50 and menopause and being childless and recently divorced she had no hope of building a family in the traditional sense of the word and was terrified of an uncharted future. Christmas and super-charged emotions must have been swirling around in that beautiful blonde head of hers. Alone in her flat and wondering what middle age would look like for someone whose career depended on youthful good looks. Sun damage was already leaving an indelible shadow on the backs of her hands and tiny wrinkles were appearing around the corners of her eyes. The mirror must have told her the twenty-something guys in the gym wouldn’t be ogling her much longer. Maybe she dreaded showing her passport at airports and owning her 46 years. Certainly she must have known the flattering catcalls of workmen were becoming less frequent and fantasies about a family were cakes in the rain (Macarthur’s Park reference for all you millennials).
Women have a use-by date that men escape. It’s biological and that wretched clock is ticking from the moment menses begin. For some reason being fertile makes us feel worthwhile. Of course today with powerful beauties like Jane Fonda, Helen Mirren and Andie McDowell breaking barriers and ground our perception of ourselves is changing…slowly. And with the burgeoning #MeToo movement we are starting to value ourselves enough to say we don’t want or need the objectifying attention of predatory men. But it’s slow to change. Even beautiful Jane says she isn’t brave enough to wear wrinkles like Maggie Smith and Judy Dench, also magnificent and attractive women.
So who shows us the way?
Men also have problems that translate into mental health issues. Men have to be rich or high achievers. They are taught from childhood that they must take care of families and step up when someone is in trouble. They are taught to put their lives on the line for their country. They are sacrificed for the greater good in pointless wars and ridiculous street fights. Masculinity as defined as by the Pocket Oxford dictionary is possessing strength and courage. Femininity is being instinctive and nurturing. Both sets of characteristics are service-oriented.
This narrow bullshit doesn’t even touch the sides of what it takes to be human!
Being human or simply, BEING, means serving your soul, finding out who we are and pursuing our soul journey. Every day we are breaking new ground inasmuch as we have never experienced the present moment before. To the soul it doesn’t matter how much money or beauty or power we possess, the experience of life is not a physical one for the soul. We feel life in our minds and somewhere else that is hard to define except in relationship to everything else we can sense. Prof Rupert Sheldrake says it brilliantly when he claims that the stars are inside our skulls. By this he means that the single point of existence for ALL THERE IS belongs inside our own consciousness. Try to imagine that you alone exist in the universe and that the universe exists in you alone. For this is the truth. There will never be another point or moment of existence outside your own awareness. You will carry yourself into eternity and as you expand your awareness and increase your ability to accept new information and new experiences you will dissolve the seeming boundaries and experience an infinite connectedness. How much you can hold inside your skull and soul depends on how willing you are to dissolve prejudice.
Holding God in your mind is your truth.
Being is your reality.
The stars exist inside your skull.
If only Annalise had understood that her potential for life was boundless and not defined solely by her aging, albeit lovely, body she might still be with us. Family isn’t always biological and beauty isn’t always physical and wealth isn’t always financial.
Wealth and beauty are the bounty of connection.
I have stood on a beach at midnight and seen myriad threads of light connecting distant stars. I have heard the cries of unseen whales and translated their song into a map of waters unknown. I have stood under the full moon and felt its light echoing Shakespeare’s praise. I have walked along the Appian Way, my feet polishing ancient footfall and anticipating the quests of future generations. I am more than my flesh and greater than my mind. I AM.
Safe in the universal womb from which all possibilities are born and sharing dominion with the stars inside my skull I AM a soul in evolution.
God speed Annalise and next time remember to be.
And so another year begins with all the promise and peril held in suspension. I love and hate this time of year. Love it because I can hit the psychological reset button and go forward. Hate it because it’s the height of summer and I feel lethargic and irritable and can’t seem to get cool no matter what I do.
But 2019 promises great things or at least the fruition of many works-in-progress.
But back to 2018 for a moment. I had to let go of two people I never thought I would – two ladies who held such a profound psychological place in my life because they could always be counted upon to buoy me up when I slid into despair. So, what happened? Well, at the beginning of 2018, every theatre in Australia rejected my work and when that happened these two women dropped me. It was odd because they had both supported me through years of rejections and successes and I had supported them. But for some reason last year’s early rejections hit them hard, so hard they could no longer weather my storms. One of them actually blamed me for Australia’s failure to recognise my talent and persistence. She said there was something lurking in my mind, or worse, my soul – an unfinished story from a long ago life or a childhood event I wasn’t facing and it was permeating all my relationships and poisoning my professional chances. Sounded like bullshit to me. My feeling was that she couldn’t face doing the hard yards in her own artistic career and was projecting her impatience onto me. The other lady just hit her usual quit-by date and has since demonstrated an equal lack of commitment to other artistic friends.
True, I missed their enthusiasm and the pep-talks and the your-so-brilliant-it’s-just-a-matter-of-time-before-you’re-famous memes, but in truth, I don’t miss them. Their heightened energy and pronouncements of easy success was highly addictive and frankly, unreal, and their promises left me swirling on an unpredictable tide.
I wonder what they would say if they knew that within a month of their leaving my life I received two positive offers? One from a composer who is ready to complete and workshop a musical we almost finished five years ago, the other from a Scottish director asking if she could produce my musical, FRED and direct CATCH THE MOON, MARY as both a play and a film.
What happened to my lurking karma from a past life and my suppressed childhood memory? Or do these things not apply with international or interstate exchanges?
So, I have let go of two friends who are no longer a good fit. I wish them well and lament that they will learn slowly that success and indeed, life, has no easy roads worth taking. There is always a toll and it’s usually paid later. The hard road is long and steep but oh, the view and the mental fitness achieved through endurance and effort. There is no view on the flat easy road. What people find is it goes nowhere you haven’t already been.
So, 2019. There is a wedding mid-year in Provence and after that two weeks in Paris. I hope to meet up with London friends and consolidate more projects and ideas. By mid-year I should have another musical completed and ready to show my agent and a good portfolio of completed musicals and a new manuscript. So, whilst success is being elusive and drawn-out I will not be caught on the hop when it does arrive, overnight! To support my new-found success I will have five musicals ready for workshop and/or production and to support my debut novel, Catch the Moon, Mary I have Fields of Grace, an elegant and charming novel with sufficient gravitas to delight the readers of Catch the Moon, Mary who loved its vitality and originality. My voice is still there in Fields of Grace albeit singing a different song. I am not one of those writers who could endure writing the same story over and over again to sate the greed of a publisher. My relationship is with my readers, present and future, who will find in my words, emotional resonance and spiritual connection.
They will sigh and know, this is what a life built on faith looks like.