In 1988, I quit graduate studies in philosophy after passing, with a mediocre grade, the oral exam for my M.A. In 1995, I more or less stopped writing, after not being admitted to the MFA program in Creative Writing at the U. of Montana (wait listed). In 1997, I stopped teaching, after an inconclusive probationary period at my first paid job. In 2000, I quit in the middle of training to teach scuba diving. In 2002, I got really fat, and then went to rehab, which was the best move I'd made in a long time.
Now, in 2006, I feel as I did when I quit grad school, didn't get into the MFA, stopped teaching, and bailed on the scuba. In each case, I was knocked windless by my failure and drowned in despair for years (luckily, substance abuse didn't get me, even though food-abuse certainly did,) though the current moment resonates especially of my quitting grad school. I'd delayed scheduling my orals for a year out of fear I couldn't pass them (I would have done better if I'd done them on time, of course.) During the exam, I froze on one of the first questions--on Parmenides (tip: if you're given the choice, explicate Heraclitus, he's easier)--and stumbled my way through the rest of the hour. Afterwards, sure that I'd failed, I spent an hour or two drinking in a local bar. Later yet, one of the auditors told me I passed; he saw the look on my face and said, "it was a SOLID pass." Within a few days, I loaded my truck with camping gear and spent three months traveling across the U.S. and Canada, never to return to philosophy again.
Fast forward to today. Last night, I spent a half hour or so at the after party, following the three day ordeal of the PATA auditions (a half hour was about as long as I could hold off social anxiety.) I'll spare you the details of my paranoia--no, I'll spare me--save for this one moment. A tall transexual woman, with shoulders like a quarter back, who'd audited was telling me how many of the auditioners had embarrassed themselves (she was pitching her services as an acting coach) and so, of course, the question was being begged, and I said, "did I embarrass myself?" She said, "don't ask me that. It's not fair to put me in that position," which is the most passive aggressive bullshit line I've heard in a long time, but nonetheless I reacted with internal paranoia and shock. And today, I want nothing more than to load up my truck with camping equipment and go skiing for the next three months.
But, God help me, that doesn't seem like a good idea. Not again.
All those fights I ran from left me to live as one of the walking wounded you see in the periphery of life, sitting at Starbucks, hanging out at bars, going to concerts or plays alone, talking to strangers in line at the movies, and... writing their blogs, in which they dump (what should be) their most guarded secrets. If I run again, another decade will dribble by, and then... I'll be done. So, now what?
Don't do anything. Sit with the shame. Accept my failure. Don't promise myself anything. Expect nothing. And keep showing up. Stand my ground as Santa Anna storms this last redoubt. I see no other redemption. Not yet.