So far November isn't off to a great start. I don't know if it's the rain, the cold, or my own lack of enthusiasm, but this week feels dull, empty, and completely uninspiring. Even the apple I bit into when I sat down to write was mealy and sour. November is always a difficult month, exams are looming, work is always slow, it's too early to think about Christmas, and the month's only "holiday" is sombre and sad. As for me, my creative writing projects seem to have ground to a (temporary) halt, and I'm looking forward to taking some classes in the New Year, but can't get started on those until January. I should blame my lack of motivation, stop whining, and put pen back to paper; but I'm going to chose to blame November.
Yesterday, in an attempt to accomplish something other than reading a hundred different blogs a day, I took myself to the grocery store and decided to whip up something tasty. I've been thinking about gifting some edible homemade stocking stuffers this year so I thought I should give it a test run. And as a bonus, I'd get a fun DIY gift idea to post on the blog.
I decided to make chocolate-covered pretzels. Easy, right? I bought different kinds of chocolate and had visions of the different flavour combinations and pretty patterns I would try. Suffice to say it was a total disaster. I've made plenty of treats with melted chocolate before, but for some reason the stuff I bought didn't work out at all. The chocolate was to think and clumped all over the place instead of coating the pretzels evenly. My attempts at layering coloured zigzag patterns in different flavours just resulted in awkward chocolate blobs. On impulse, I added some water to thin things out, but somehow it had an opposite reaction and I ended up with a rock-hard clump of gritty chocolate paste.
Turns out chocolate chips don't melt the same way regular chocolate does.
I slamed some pots and pans around my kitchen and complained about my terrible, awful, failure, and my complete inability to accomplish anything at all ever.
And then my boyfriend said something wise. "Don't worry," he said. "You tried something new and it didn't work out the first time. Plenty of things don't work out the first time, don't be so hard on yourself."
It got me thinking about our approach to failure. When it comes to the great inventors, scientists, artists, and writers, we don't see the countless failed hypothesis or discarded early drafts. Genius can look deceptively effortless when all we see is the final project. But I want to get everything right the first time.
When I was studying theatre in university, we were encouraged, regularly, to fail. Someone pinned a quote by the playwright Samuel Beckett on the wall of our studio that read: "Try again. Fail again. Fail better." The idea was that failure was a natural part of the journey toward self-improvement. That risk-taking in the name of creativity, innovation, and exploration was more valued than a flawless final product. This is how we learn.
In retrospect, it seems like an obvious lesson that we were all told in kindergarten: "Learn from your mistakes". But somewhere along the way I think we started seeing mistakes as an undesirable and unfortunate setback rather than a natural and helpful part of the learning process.
Maybe it happened when we left the safety of that university studio. In school, we created a world for ourselves where it was safe to play, to experiment, and where risks were applauded regardless of their success. And then we left our safe little world and the consequences of failure suddenly became much more serious. We are no longer living for the sake of learning, now we are driven by the desire to succeed, to make something of ourselves, to put all that education to good use, and to prove that we can handle it in the real world. This is what we spent all those years training for, and failure is no longer an option.
In the midst of this dull and uninspiring month, I'm challenging myself to rediscover the joy of experimentation and embrace the possibility that I might not get things right the first time. I will never melt chocolate chips again. Maybe I'll get back to chipping away at the first draft of my next project. Maybe I'll find inspiration in trying something new and won't beat myself up if it doesn't turn out perfectly.
Or maybe I'll need to re-read this post on a regular basis to keep myself on track and remember that even though those pretzels didn't really work out, they were still pretty tasty.
So let's make a mistake. It might not be pretty, but it could still be delicious.