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Uttering the “F Word” While Searching for the Fruitful Knowledge-Apples From Trees of Mistakes (Saturday, August 1st, 2020)

One of the most negative thoughts that sometimes overpowers my capacities for reasoning, conferring with basic philosophical principles such as compassion (which in my view one owes to one’s self if one is to offer it to others with any effectiveness) and the optimistic framing of perspective that reiterates life’s and the universe’s (and/or multiverse’s?) aspects, is that I simply lose at and suck at life.

It goes way back to the mythology I inadvertently but self-destructively and dogmatically adhered to as a child, teenager, and young adult that by the laws of physics and thus fate, I was never meant for basic competence and thus likewise success.

Oooh, you said a bad word….!

In the context of  upping my positive thinking game I can think of a couple possible focus point from which to follow the development of negativity from the seeds of false and destructive assumptions. For example: the power of emotion… of disappointment, frustration, depressiveness, feeling beside one’s self, the sweeps of anxiety turned into waves—especially the sorts one can associate with THE F WORD… “FAILURE.” If you have been privy to several of my entries prior to this one you might recall my most recurring theme at this stage in my life is grappling with the challenge of COMMITMENT (if not, I have just filled you in and brought you quickly “into the loop”). Well, FAILURE can bung and slam 1) bung: “To throw (violently); to send; to put forcibly”; from the Oxford English Dictionary a person far away from commitment, especially if and when it does so at the wrong place at the wrong time in one’s life OR what one INTERPRET to be the wrong place at the wrong time in one’s life.

I am not a Christian but have heard on more than an occasion that Christian hymn that goes:

Count your blessings;
Name them one by one.
Count your blessings;
See what God hath done.

and yet alas sometimes I cannot help but count my failures… one by one and so this is how I can come to delude myself into believing I am a failure who “sucks” and “loses at life.” Mind you this much nonetheless: I do not conclude in more sober approached and reasoned through analysis that I am indeed a complete and utter failure but when so many of one’s “successes” feel aesthetic and/or esoteric, when one’s successes are quite spiritual and abstract (I grant to myself that I have at least established with considerable confidence, my basic philosophical principles and why I hold them as such with considerable confidence; I grant to myself that I have, fate-willing, arrived at an aesthetics that has been the product of crazy twists in turns between roughly the time I was 10 and 34—I have, at least, piles of notebooks drafting various thoughts and literary experiments over roughly the last twenty years, if only to hold on to should I be placed on the defensive), when one feels like the great explorer of the mind, but struggles so much, it would seem, with things that are really quite basic (a rumor suggests Einstein could not tie his shoes. I have not yet encountered a credible source to insist upon this but for the sake of increasing one’s sense of ego it may be a comforting thought… hee hee) it can corrode parts of self-esteem. But what are these failures? Which among them are “the more basic?” But more importantly, if I am to frame these failures in a constructive and more optimistic, positive-thought based “light,” what does that framing seem like to me?

(One of my favorite quotes:

“A mistake is only a mistake if we don’t learn from it and therefore train our brain not to repeat the pattern”

-Neurologist Tara Swart, from her 2020 book The Source, page 167)

Some of my earliest failures

What do I consider to be my first major failure?

Although I do not recollect the situation I used to be in possession of some of the projects I completed for pre-school. One was a picture where I was supposed to “color inside the lines.” But alas, I could not do it. I colored either rebelliously or most incompetently outside the lines. The good news is that this does not necessarily suggest I was conatively impaired. It may have been an inherent drive to think and act “outside the box”  I was simply putting into practice at a young age. If so, nobody ever told me.

Another interpretation of early failure is that I possessed an inability to get along with others. I believed myself chronically in trouble with my parents but never quite understanding why. Funny enough, other than that I was often told “don’t talk back” or that my talking was very “fresh” or “rude.” I say it is funny enough because in hindsight, if a child’s mere mouth and verbiage can seem to cause so much uproar , as misguided or misdirected at her or his utterances might be, must we not give the young one some credit!?! For people to lose patience over words rather chronically, unless the child is a mean spirit, a “bad seed” (My father once said The Bad Seed  

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048977

-was the scariest movie he’d ever seen 2)this was coming from his point of view at the age of 50 plus and he had explained it was about this inherently evil little girl. Trump’s true soulmate perhaps?)

Was I a bad seed? A bad seed “of sorts?”

The bad seed

 What can I recall of my own early misconduct or of those earliest of accusations charging me of misconduct? When I was very young I did bite one of my younger siblings a few times and pulled a sibling’s hair once, and even pushed the sibling’s face into the ground. That was really mean spirited. I can not in the least conceive of WHY I would do such things. Well, the pulling of hair and pushing the face into the snow I remember having a thought about when I did it. The sibling had said something that “hurt my feelings.” How and why I don’t remember in the last. As to the biting… I was maybe three.  How does a three year old even KNOW to bite a person?

It does pain me to admit I don’t remember ever being a good or encouraging older brother to my younger siblings or to my older siblings. (Well, when I was young I got on actually very well with my older siblings. It was when I fell into young adulthood that I really lost touch with my capacity to show them how much I cared). Part of it had to do with an inferiority complex… at least as the years went on. I believed my younger siblings were BETTER THAN ME AT EVERYTHING! This was also the case with my older siblings but because they were older it made sense to me. But that my younger siblings advanced so swiftly ahead of me (it seemed)…maybe when I said unkind things to them or perpetuated an argument it was as if I thought somehow it would slow down their superiority? Help me catch up?

I do give myself SOME credit here. Often enough it “takes two to tango.” My siblings were not always so nice to me either. Or at least I did not always interpret them as so nice. My memory is of them incessantly playing the angry contrarian to anything and everything I said. (To their credit, I showed no profound indications of being a bright one so they could have been right every time and I could have been wrong. But if they were always right whenever we had a disagreement, I cannot say I remember them ever being nice about it. Not that I would have been nice about it if and when I was right about some absurd argument and they were wrong.)

Whatever the details were, it was always an AXIOM of mine that all my siblings were my superiors and when it was accentuated loudly enough I snapped, yelled, hurled insults, et cetera.

This is not necessarily the core seed and root of my apparent failures in life but as these thoughts are typed out spontaneously, they are the first ones to come to mind.

I guess the takeaway from childhood for me is that my own conceptualization myself was that I was a little fuck up not to be liked and who was… the poor little boy that couldn’t. It wasn’t just family, you see. I must have also been waving some sort of “I’m the kid to bully” flag because in pre-school two boys would chase me around the playground with such might, calling me “butt-head” inciting terror within me. I would hide under the playground afraid they would hurt me. Maybe it is just a coincidence but I also had a recurring nightmare around that time…it is one of the earliest dreams I can recall…of being chased…and…as I RECALL IT (memory, I do realize can draw on imagination to add certain details) chased after by someone with a gun who wanted to assassinate me. As that dream stuck with me, at some point, maybe in my early twenties, I began to develop a paranoid vision that it was my fate to be assassinated for something.

A very, very short tale about a postmodern martyr

(When I was 18, at Kean University, I wrote a play about a martyr. The story went as follows:  there is a rich young adult…I think Christian… who is very smart. He drops out of college and becomes an atheist. He falls in love with a poor girl who is also an atheist. He lives with her for a long time “in the streets.” And then one day is compelled to martyr himself in the Middle East by traveling to Israel and standing by the “holy sites” in the nude with the word PEACE written upon his body, protesting the violence between the Jews and the Muslims. It is here that he is then murdered and he feels an affinity with Jesus. Not a religious one but a moral one. The belief in using the sacrifice of his life, his existence, in the name of trying to end the very principle of violence and hate. Sadly, I managed to lose this play.)

Speaking of the “night and day” that is success and failure, it does comfort me to recall, in spite of and despite my progression of failures, I was, since I was at least 9 years old, when I first took up writing as a passion, committed to TRYING MY BEST NOT to be a failure in “some way, shape, or form.”

If any “incident” “takes the cake” so far as my earliest childhood failures are concerned, the most fundamental and arguably traumatic, was my F in math when I was in fifth grade.

This F came not only to reiterate the idea that I was utterly incompetent in math and in general, but it became my very symbol of self! I was that rare and pitiful one in the crowd the others were so surely elated to NOT be like. I was like “one of the bad kids” just not in terms of my behavior. I was intellectually. Cognitively.

Everyone else had book smarts but that was okay because I had street smarts and imagination…

It was thus established early on that my siblings had intelligence and as for me, if I was to have anything, it might be “street smarts” but actually, alas, that also wasn’t true. A parent of mine said it anyway. That my siblings may have been book smart but I was street smart.

From Bob Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone”

Ahh you've gone to the finest schools, alright Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
Nobody's ever taught you how to live out on the street
And now you're gonna have to get used to it
You say you never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He's not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And say do you want to make a deal?

As I was NOT street smart (I mean, first of all, I was fucking 11, so I was not “street smart” 3)was it THEN that the fake street smart and book smart dichotomy was bestowed upon me or have I got it all wrong? I did at least get some credit for my “imagination.”

I don’t recall any particular context but I do remember very well that my mother in particular said to me I had quite “imagination” or one notable enough for her to imply it was more a factor of my personality than was the norm for others, whatever that might mean. (Funny enough, if it was the case that noting my imagination was complimentary in nature, that never sunk in, because usually whenever that “artistic” or “imaginative” aspect of myself was brought into my routine plethora of scrutinies, it was tied to how I lived in “La-La Land” or rode on the “Magical Mystery Train.” As I got older and grew out my hair to feel like a “rock star” or “hippie” furthermore dressing to look the part, quite often in tie-dye and rainbow and peace sign patches, I was the little fuck up whose hair was to be cut if I was to be seen with the family outside the house. I was the one who was to change the way he dressed.

From Eminem’s “Cleanin Up My Closet”

 Cultivating a self-esteem requires, at least in my case, fighting those demons, those demonic forces that perpetuate one’s ever growing cause for self loathing and self-castigation.

“Have you ever been hated or discriminated against?
I have, I've been protested and demonstrated against
Picket signs for my wicked rhymes, look at the times
Sick is the mind of the motherfuckin' kid that's behind
All this commotion, emotions run deep as oceans, explodin'
Tempers flarin' from parents, just blow 'em off and keep goin'
Not takin' nothin' from no one, give 'em hell long as I'm breathin'
Keep kickin' ass in the morning and takin' names in the evenin'
Leave 'em with a taste as sour as vinegar in they mouth
See, they can trigger me, but they'll never figure me out
Look at me now! I bet you're prob'ly sick of me now
Ain't you, Mama? I'ma make you look so ridiculous now!   

… I maybe made some mistakes
But I'm only human, but I'm man enough to face 'em today
What I did was stupid, no doubt it was dumb

… See, what hurts me the most is you won't admit you was wrong”

It’s one of those things I wish I didn’t have to say because in no way whatsoever do I wish or mean to imply in even the subtlest or slightest way that I view myself as inherently wrong by my family, blaming my oh-so-misfortunate fate on them. Many people in my family, immediate and extended, offered me numerous means to advance myself in life in this way and that way but I squandered those means often very quickly. But…if we could try a little inductive reasoning at least as to learn from history and keeping it from repeating itself 1) I think it is pretty obvious that I struggled as a kid, pre-teen, young adulthood 2) supposing I was a “bad seed” my one criticism (and only if we go by the bad seed premise) is that very little was done about it in a constructive way. It goes back to that classic principle that not only has a decent success rate but also is indeed, constructive, “you attract more flies with honey.” If I was a bad seed, my flowers didn’t get enough honey. Haha. I mean, you call remind someone how wrong they are and to the extent that your hope is that the wrong is acknowledged as to then be moved to a place where that Tara Swart principle I cited earlier

“A mistake is only a mistake if we don’t learn from it and therefore train our brain not to repeat the pattern”

-can thus advance with application.

(And to quote Eminem from the previously referenced song just once more

“Now, I would never diss my own mama [OR ANYONE IN MY FAMILY] just to get recognition

Take a second to listen ‘fore you think this record is dissin’….”)

With this in mind, it’s really the psychology and philosophy/ideology or the “cycle” that needs to be examined because neither of my biological parents initiated habits that I find myself critical of. I can find traces that go back at least one more generation: my grandparents.

And again… it makes no sense to criticize my grandparents with anger. Not if you believe, as I do, that saying, attributed to Christ, “Forgive them their sins, they know not what they do.”

The question is, or the wonder (since all of my grandparents have now passed and there is very little I am privy to regarding the complexities of THEIR upbringings and what THEY  were most CRITICIAL OF regarding their parents, grandparents, et cetera) is… where did practices such as constantly picking at someone in a negative light or all to easily ignited extreme anger come from? Moreover, the two individuals who perplex me the most (I am comfortable identifying them explicitly because they’re both passed now, may the R.I.P.) are my maternal grandmother and my father and specifically because they were both strikingly intellectual and rich in knowledge. Both of them, from a superficial perspective at least, it should seem, should have picked up on the virtue and utility of basic kindness. In my father’s case especially since he was a psychotherapist with a doctorate degree. How the hell could my father of all people been so aloof of the very psychological theorizing arising in his own day, like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how important things like self-esteem and feelings of basic security are? That verbal abuse was so easy for someone who theoretically went to a long, long marathon of schooling to grasp the very opposite of mental abuse…it is just so baffling.

As for my grandmother…I have much less context to go by…less personal and familial context anyway. I know she was a child of the Great Depression and that the Second World War was part of her coming of age story. I understand that she lived a sort of dual mentality of the very liberated woman (she is the one who argued to me that prostitution should be legalized for example. She left her vibrator out and about to be scene by we the grandchildren, and when asked what it was, she said “it’s a vibrator” 4)I didn’t know what a vibrator in of itself was however  ) and yet she was also a woman who allowed herself to be pushed down by the patriarchy at the end of the day, as it was her husband’s (my grandfather’s) business that took quite front and center as opposed to whatever her full on front and center American dream might REALLY have been had she perhaps felt less shackled to the brutish misogyny of her time. ((I don’t mean to assert in full confidence that my grandmother was a pushover at the mercy of the patriarchy. Indeed, rumor has it she may have had tremendous sway over my grandfather. And certainly as a person in general, of anyone in my family, almost more than anyone I’ve ever known, my grandmother was immensely outspoken and most of the time with profound substance. That is actually the essence of what mystifies me about her. She was BRILLIANT. She was among the top-5  most Socratic people I’ve ever met. As someone so beautifully at constant war with ASSUMPTIONS, how is it that she could succumb at times, to bringing others down with such meanness, uttering angry and impatient profanity with such corrosiveness?  

 I don’t know. But I persist in trying to shake these sorts of things out of my mind and into the dumpster while keeping whatever inductively gained principles I can gain from it… and so… in truth, that I think so deeply into these thinks as to practically permeate into these memories and their philosophical, psychological, sociological implications, so desperate to work it out as correctly as I can…I do not feel like the fuck up failure loser at life I once did and that is nice.  

References   [ + ]

1. bung: “To throw (violently); to send; to put forcibly”; from the Oxford English Dictionary
2. this was coming from his point of view at the age of 50 plus
3. was it THEN that the fake street smart and book smart dichotomy was bestowed upon me or have I got it all wrong?
4. I didn’t know what a vibrator in of itself was however

By Sean O'Connor

Hi, I'm Sean O'Connor, a poet and writer pursuing my MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at William Paterson University, where I also work as a learning generalist and where I received my BA in Liberal Studies.

Currently. I also work as a writing tutor at Raritan Valley Community College and Mercer County Community College.

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