Is Failure Genetic?

FRED Cheryl & AlisonOK 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.Featured Image -- 356

24 thoughts on “Is Failure Genetic?

  1. Failure is not genetic. Failure is a product of the mind. Start with your definition of success. In your post you mention money more than once, so I take it making money is (or was) a part of what success means to you. The question is, why do you want money, and in what way is it a measurement of success. You are a writer. Did you start out wanting to make money by being a “successful writer”? Or did you start out wanting to tell stories, and hope against hope someone might want to read them? I am betting on the latter, but I could be wrong.

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    • Have you ever read Jonathon Livingstone Seagull (JLS)? It is a short book written by a writer named Richard Bach. Back in the day, his story goes, he was a barnstorming pilot, travelling around the USA trying to make a living giving people airplane rides. Obviously this was quite a while ago, before commercial air travel became wildly popular. Flying was his main love. He wrote JLS based on his own feelings of how free he felt being in his own airplane, daily experiencing the wonder of flight. He found a Literary Agent who took his little book on, and he forgot about it. He kept on flying, making barely enough to make ends meet. Some days he barely ate anything, using his paltry funds to put gas in his airplane, and sleeping on the ground, under the wing for shelter. On a particularly bad day he went into the closest town, and went to a bank, hoping he had enough money to buy a part for his plane, and a bit for himself. (Banking too was very different in those days, they used to pay you interest on your money. As opposed to charging a fee for everything you do, while keeping to themselves what money they are making off your money!) To make a long story short, he asked the teller how much money was in his account. Remember, he had forgotten about JLS. When the teller passed him a slip with a 7-digit number on it he says he just about fainted. What did he withdraw? Enough money to fix and fuel his plane, and a bit for himself. And he went back to flying his plane, barnstorming wherever he could find someone who would pay him to give him or her a ride in his aircraft.

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      • I have read JLS and adored it. I’ve read all of Richard Bach’s books except the ones written after he and Leslie Parrish divorced. He lost credibility for me then, not because I disapprove of divorce, not at all, but because he said she was his twin flame and yet he failed to remain committed to her. Still, fantastic message in JLS, One and The Bridge Across Forever.

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      • I read his books for awhile after JLS, but they stopped showing up in our bookstores, so I thought he had stopped writing. JLS, One is, I presume, the original. What is the “Bridge Across Forever”? I do not remember that one, or else I just cannot remember it. Did it involve JLS himself? If so, I never read it.
        But speaking of JLS, I never really liked the movie they made, but the album put out by Neil Diamond from the movie soundtrack is one of my top 5 all time favorites. Whenever I need to settle myself down and center myself, that is the music I listen to. And now that I think of it (my memory is not so good as it used to be) it has even a couple years since I last listened to it. What with people like Trump and BoJo ruining, excuse me, running the world of late, I have taken very little time for myself. I need a good dose of JLS, the music, right about now…

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      • The Bridge Across Forever was all about Richard Bach’s relationship with Leslie Parrish and it was gorgeous and I thought, heartfelt. But they split up so… That music from the movie!!! Genius. Best thing Neil Diamond ever wrote and yes, connects me with my soul. The movie was silly. Trump and Boris Johnson are the lowest forms of life and it is the last stand for a world that fails to honour excellence and justice. Many of us now are pushing for a world without war and waste and the chance to live more meaningful lives. The economy drives every decision currently and that means slavery is vital for the hierarchy of rich supported by legions of poor or poorly-paid workers. Those of us who break away from the system and contribute ideas in the form of art and science open up new pathways for restless or curious others to follow and we are dangerous for the Trumps and the BoJos of this world.

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      • I have never seen the Bridge Across Forever, so pssibly he has other books I haven’t read too. I am sorry his relationship did not work out. But then, neither did mine, though we still loved each other when we parted.

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    • I yearned to be a genius, nothing less was good enough for me. I have worked hard all my life to hone my talents to the point where I could stand shoulder to shoulder with the writers I worship. You will decide when you read Catch the Moon, Mary if I have come close to that goal. But as I wore myself out physically and mentally working day jobs I hated for decades and watched lesser writers make millions I decided that making enough money to live decently was not an unreasonable desire. I don’t write for money. I write for excellence and posterity however I now want to be able to support myself with something more than slave wages.

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      • I do wish you luck with that. Maybe I can even help that along in some way, though, being honest, after having read a few reviews last night I am not sure how I will react to your book. I am not pre-judging it, but the idea of angels is very foreign to me. However, being a longtime fan of science fiction, I am very used to knowing how to “suspend disbelief” and just read the story when necessary. Again, just being honest.
        On the genius topic, I had the opposite problem to you. If you don’t mind my crying on your shoulder a bit more, I was born a genius (as measured by IQ test results in the old days) but because I was Metis I was discounted, and never allowed to shine. Where white boys (especially) were encouraged to strut their stuff, I was ignored and even rejected by those who supported and tried to inspire kids to be their best. Oh, my teachers knew I was “special,” but not one of them lifted a hand to help me get a better education, or helped me apply for scholarships, etc. Not that there were any other “geniuses” around me, but the white bright boys and girls were encouraged to shine, while I was left to muddle along on my own. I came from a very poor and highly abusive home, and that was where I belonged, according to them. When I started to realize this (most of what I just said I did not understand at the time, but I could feel something was being done to me) I dropped out of school and joined the so-called Hippie Movement that was just forming, where I was at least accepted as a real person. They could not stop me from being a genius, and had they encouraged me who knows what I might have accomplished, but because of them I found an environment where I was allowed to discover “me!” and that was the best thing I ever did in my life.
        And like you, I am not writing mainstream stuff, nor am I doing it in a mainstream style. But I am not out to make any money at all. I am happy having next to nothing, and while I would love to be out of debt–I don’t owe that much, but when the pension I am on doesn’t cover the basics, getting out of debt is nigh on impossible–I will be keeping my book to the bare minimum price-wise, so it can be available to other poor people like me. (This is not a condemnation of any other writer, this is just me being me.) My needs are few, as are even my wants, so I have little use for money in my life.
        If you feel open to revealing more of yourself to me, feel free. I love getting to know about other people.

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      • Being female (white is incidental) I am on the lowest social rung. I once had an aboriginal friend (a singer and coincidentally male) and we were driving across the city to a recording studio to record my first CD. All the way over he was telling me about the appalling prejudice he suffered as an aboriginal. I was driving and it was peak-hour. I changed lanes on the bridge and a guy yelled out his window “F***ing female driver, get a f***ing licence”. I’m an excellent and careful driver and he was completely out of line. When we got to the studio a male visitor asked me (ordered me) to get him a cup of coffee (white with one sugar). I did it. When we went into the studio the sound engineer ignored me and spoke exclusively to my friend and the male arranger about my songs (which I’d written). Not once was I asked my opinion about the way the songs were sounding. The sound engineer then ordered me into the studio and told me to listen to his commands in my headphones about how to sing my own songs. When my friend (singing harmonies) and I had finished the session, the two men in the booth (sound engineer and arranger) invited him to join them for a beer. I was ignored. My friend said we had to get back. When we were in the car he said “I was wrong, Wendy. Women are treated far worse than I have ever been treated. What I saw today is appalling.” I said, “Francis, that’s what I experience every day.” I am dismissed, ignored, yelled out, flirted with and expected to agree with men on every subject. If I speak up I’m a bitch. If I ask for something I’m a nag. If I ignore a man’s sexual overtures I’m frigid. If I accept them I’m a slut. If I excel I’m lucky. Welcome to my world.

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      • Do you know John Lennon’s song, “Woman Is the Nigger of the World”? It’s on his “Live in New York” album, I’m pretty sure. People bitched about his language, as usual. They missed the message in his song!

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      • I’m not a massive fan of The Beatles or any of their groups after they split up and went their separate ways so no, not familiar. Sounds like he was trying to sympathise with women at the expense of African-Americans! Always confrontational but I like that in people.

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      • John was not doing anything at the expense of African Americans, he was using a word that was at the time still somewhat socially acceptable, and he uses it in such a way that shows off his (at the time) new feminist side, as taught to him by his wife Yoko Ono. I found it to be a very powerful song, but nowadays, no-one will play it.

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      • It does sound diminutive and rude, I don’t dispute that. And that is exactly how the “I” word sounds to most of us. But in this particular song it is used to make a point. In my opinion, the point was made.

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      • It’s actually “half-breed” as far as most whites are concerned, and you can imagine the vitriol in their voices when they use it! Mėtis actually requires a French ancestor, as well as DNA from an Original Human Inhabitant of Turtle Island (OHITI as I have renamed that side of my family. Turtle Island is the English name all the nations share for our land.) Mostly they call us that name Cristofo Columbo gave us, saying he thought he had landed in India–bullshit! He knew where he was not, but he did not care, and his blunder still stinks to this day!) My blood is probably around 35% OHITI at this point, but that is just for special people to know. Apache and Cree are English bastardizations of our names in their own languages. The Whites group us all together, but really we are separate nations who happened to have common ancestors.

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      • Interesting that white people (invaders no less) feel the need to name-call the original inhabitants and denigrate the lineage. My ancestry is French, German, Irish and Dutch-Jewish but because my ancestors had to leave their homelands I don’t identify with any country or nation or for that matter, religion. Maybe the aborigines here have names for the early settlers but I have no idea what they are. There is movement here now for the various Aboriginal dialects to be taught in schools, so it doesn’t get lost, much as the Welsh have their own language. Is Turtle Island language taught in your schools?

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  2. Jerry, on the subject of suspending belief, remember The Picture of Dorian Grey? The painting aged and showed Dorian’s true character while he remained sweet and innocently handsome. Oscar lured us into a fantasy that had a profound message. I will post my book next week. Where I live is only accessible by water so I go to the mainland about once a week.

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  3. Yes. One of my favourite movies is based on The Picture of Dorian Grey. It is named Phantom of the Paradise, the “rock” version of Phantom of the Opera. I don’t know where your musical tastes lie, but POTP was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek production that would have failed had some friends of mine and I not spent all our money going to see almost daily for over 3 months. If you look up the movie look under Winnipeg,
    I surmise from what I have read in your posts and what you said above you are now living on an island off the coast of England. How neat!

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    • I live in Australia on the Hawkesbury River near Sydney! My musical tastes are eclectic and I write musical theatre. To date I have written lyrics, book and music for three musicals and book and lyrics for two.

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      • I am tone deaf, they tell me, as well as having a flat singing voice, whatever that is called. I know what I like to listen to (just about anything short of opera and operetta), but I have no idea what musical notes mean, so I cannot write music. Still, I have written songs two rock operas, though one is lost. A local Winnipeg band played one of my songs, but I left Winnipeg before it could be published. I wanted to be a singer, but even the studio producer who promised me he could make “anyone” sound good failed. I felt I was born to be a front man, but life proved otherwise.
        I was fooled by the picture of you at a book release in London, taking that to mean you had moved to England. I goofed totally. I would have loved to visit both Australia and New Zealand, but international travel was not for me. I went to Poland, my mother’s home country, just before the Berlin Wall fell, so I actually got to go through Brandenburg Gate while it was still the entrance/exit between East and West Berlin, and while in line to pass through got to hear the sound of machinegunfire as someone tried to escape. I have no idea if they escaped or not, but I doubt it. Hundreds of bullets were fired in a short period of time. I also visited Cuba once when I won a trip there in 2004. But aside from the States those were my only two excursions out of Canada.

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      • Very few people are truly tone deaf. I used to teach singing and it can be corrected with a lot of work. But in some rare cases people simply cannot hear the notes properly and there’s nothing you can do to help them. But it’s much rarer than people think. I adore Europe and have been there three times in my life. Australia is so far from everywhere I always feel like I’m returning to the moon when I come home after being away! I hate living on the bottom of the world! I used to live in Seattle when i was married to an American and I thought the scenery was exquisite!

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