Thursday, March 15, 2012

An ode to failure

Failure is the path to success. (I say this because I consider myself a consummate failure. I'm biased.) Yes, I know it sounds pat and perhaps trite. But nothing worthwhile is possible without failure and rejection and pain.


I started my college years in a graphic design program. I thought I belonged there because the only thing I was any good at in high school was art.

I hated the program. I didn't feel like my instructors actually taught anything. We did project after project without much direction. Only after we were in the very late stages of an assignment did we receive our teachers' input, and by input I mean criticism. Usually by then it was too late to do anything about it.

I made lots of Bs and I considered each one to be a failure. I wanted to be making As. I didn't care so much about the projects themselves, I just wanted to be successful and to be recognized as such. I hated being in front of people and having my shortcomings examined.

Excuse me, did I say "my shortcomings"? I meant the shortcomings of my work. Except I really meant mine, because in my mind they were one and the same.


After a year and a half I left the program to study horrible things that happened in the past as well as horrible things that are still happening today. I continued trying to make art, but grew more and more frustrated with my output. I felt I was not improving, that my technique had stagnated and was indeed growing worse. And eventually I quit drawing and painting all but completely. I very rarely do it now.

For years I couldn't think about art or design without feeling like a catastrophic loser. Only very recently have I been able to look back at that time without feeling ashamed.

No one told me to feel this way. I decided I sucked on my own.

After some time (as long as I could manage) I accumulated 120 credits and was made to leave college. I failed to find a job in my field (although what field that was I'm still not exactly sure) and ended up working as a secretary.

By this time my interest in dance had ballooned immensely. Dance occupied all of my free time and then some. I felt desperate to try to make it my career. And after only two years of full-time employment I quit, hoping I could perhaps work a part-time job and get by otherwise on dance alone.

This didn't work. I tried teaching as many as six classes a week at one point, desperate to reach out to students in different areas. At many of these classes, due to rent and gas, I was making a loss.

I felt like a moron for quitting my job. I felt like a delinquent for not having a job. I felt like a failure because my plan wasn't working. I felt horrible.

In 2010 I stopped teaching many of my classes. Simultaneously, my hours at my part time job were decimated. I had nothing to do and was bringing in next to no income.

I stared into the void. The void told me to write a novel about vampires.

No, I thought, that's a really stupid idea. I should try to get another job. A real job, with regular hours, where I put on normal clothes and go into a normal office with normal people. I did some listless job-hunting online and submitted a few applications to a few places. I never heard back.

I wrote the novel, still thinking it was a stupid idea. Then I rewrote it five times. I started teaching dance classes again. The classes grew. The classes shrank. I got a second part time job.

Now the novel is finished. I consider it my first successful project. Not that I have convinced someone to publish it yet (I haven't), or even to represent it (nope not that either), but because I love it from the bottom of my heart. It might be total crap, but it is my beloved crap, the crap I have poured my heart and soul into.

Why can I love this crap when I couldn't love most of my previous crap?

Perhaps because I saw it as an experiment, a way to express something weird within me, and not as a competition with some Platonic ideal of high art or literature. I suppose I failed to live up to that ideal so many times, eventually I was forced to realize that all I will do for the rest of my life is fail to live up to the ideal.

I accepted my status as a complete failure, said "fuck it", and kept working anyway. The time since then has been the only time in my life when I have ever been able to feel like I have accomplished any measure of success.


We define success or failure by our own version of the ideal. Now every time I feel trapped my by own ideals, I remind myself that I'm a failure and I get right back to work. And I'm almost always proud of what I manage to accomplish.

Since I've accepted myself as a failure I don't care so much about impressing other people. I've realized I'd rather communicate with other people, or at least entertain them, than impress them.

I would still love to make a living, or even half a living, from my writing or from dance. But even if I never do, it can't make me any more of a failure.


Failure is an intrinsic part of making art. Artists transmit ideas into reality, but it isn't a download kind of process; the works we create will never and can never perfectly match our ideas of what the work should be. Our mediums are flawed. Reality and the mind don't mesh perfectly. Even verbalizing an idea distorts it somehow.

You must accept that you will fail and then make the attempt anyway. Every attempt will result in failure.

I lied to you earlier. Failure is not really the path to success. Success is just a particularly appealing brand of failure. Failure is all that there is.

I look back and I am glad for all the ways I have failed. I look forward and hope to keep failing with my whole heart.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Side effects

So I am on a new drug that's supposed to help me manage my Fibromyalgia pain. For quite a long time I was terrified of getting pharmaceutical help for my condition, but after a resounding success with a sleep drug I started last year I thought what the hell, let's give this a shot too.

The drug, which I don't really want to call out by name--let's just say it's popular for FMS--is sort of helping with the pain, by means of inducing a state in which I feel my nerves are swaddled in cotton. An odd swimming sensation sometimes overcomes me and I hear "Across The Universe" on near-constant repeat. (last detail an exaggeration)

I am not sure I like the main effect of the drug, not to mention the side effects.
I'm having some side effects. Or at least I think I am. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's the drug and what's me being a hypochondriac freak.

First off, I think it's thrown off my equilibrium. I can't spin like I normally can without feeling dizzy, and I feel unstable on my toes. This might not sound so bad--how often do you have to spin around until you make yourself sick?--but spinning is a big part of what I do for fun and sometimes profit, i.e. bellydance. But is this really because of the drug or because I didn't practice much in December?

Doubt sets in.

My hunger impulses are out of whack. I don't feel particularly hungry at all, ever. But I always feel like I could eat. After eating a good meal I don't really feel full. Is this me or the drug?
So I try not to eat except at meals, knowing I can just keep eating mindlessly if I don't police myself. Then sometimes I start to feel lightheaded. Is this from hunger or is it another side effect?
I feel tired and forgetful. Often I'm not sure what I should be doing, but I feel I should be doing something. I have trouble with word recall and sometimes when faced with a complex problem my brain simply freezes up and throws a Blue Screen of Death. But, uh, welcome to being Sara. I've been this way for as long as I can remember. Is this me or the drug?
Sometimes I feel happy, like REALLY happy, for no goddamn reason. Less often I feel inexplicably sad. Me or the drug?

I could go on.

For years, my doctors placed my well being squarely in my hands. At the time there was no drug for Fibromyalgia. I was on my own. Eat right, sleep enough and on a regular schedule, and exercise enough (but not too much) and you will feel all right, they said.

Now, as a result, whenever I feel shitty I immediately want to blame myself. If I hadn't slept in 30 minutes, I'd feel okay. If I had exercised yesterday I'd have more energy. If I hadn't waited to eat breakfast I wouldn't have a headache.

And now, experiencing these symptoms, I'm not sure what is at fault: me or the drug. I'm awfully confused. I want to believe that in the end the drug will help, because I want to believe there is a solution. Somewhere deep in my shriveled heart I still want to believe that I can feel well most of the time. Not because health itself is that appealing to me, but because I feel like my condition gets in the way of my dreams. Sometimes I let myself think about what I could be like if I just had some energy.

I don't want to sound maudlin. My bad days are really not so bad. I'm never going to die from this and it probably isn't going to get worse unless I let myself go. But hope opens you up to this odd feeling: the idea that in returning back to normal something has been lost.

Should I put up with the side effects and hold on to that hope or should I give up?

Saturday, December 31, 2011


For perhaps the first time in my life I am sad to see a year end.
2011 was incredibly kind to me and my husband. In 2010 we spent most of our time apart. For much of it I drove him back and forth to work every day (a 45 minute commute one way) so I could get to my ESL appointments. In 2011 he got a contract working for a giant multinational tech company and now we both work at home. We spend most of our time in the same room, talking and obsessing over our little white dog.
We moved to a nice apartment with lots of closet space and big windows that look out into the bright blue sky.
At night we play Magic: The Gathering and Arkham Horror.
We don't live paycheck to paycheck any more.
I started working with a group of writers who make me much more sane about my writing. Some of them even like to play Magic with me. (I played a lot of Magic in 2011.)
I went to the most beautiful island in the world with my beautiful sister to study with the most beautiful bellydancer ever.
I have lots of black and grey clothes in my closet (so I can pretend to be a goth everyday) and I live within walking distance of my favorite store (Goodwill).
I just made space in my bedroom for my art desk so I can start drawing again without hurting my neck.
My little life has never been happier, and I have never felt more comfortable with myself than I do now.

Thank you 2011.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


2011 was kind of awesome. Despite my neuroses and crippling attention deficit disorder I managed to get some good work in. Let's take a look.

  • I finished Redlisted!!!!!!!!11 After going through a months-long period where I couldn't stand to even look at the manuscript, around September I suddenly got the inspiration and the urge to write the last draft, which I actually like and can show to people without cringing or wanting to hide in a hole. I am so happy that I got past the stage of wanting to disown it slash erase all traces of its existence.
  • I produced a show, Doomsday Cabaret, all by myself and it didn't suck. In fact, I've heard people liked it.
  • I taught a workshop at a regional festival for the first time!
  • I got a new part time job and have managed to hold on to it despite sucking at it really, really badly. I am being serious. I am terrible at this stupid job, but I am proud of myself for sticking it out and trying my best.
  • I wrote a short story! NO! TWO SHORT STORIES! Oh wow!
  • I performed outside the US for the first time!
  • I got accepted to perform at TribalCon 2012. I was scared to even apply, so this was kind of a big deal for me.
  • I started writing a novel I am pretty much in love with.
  • I made myself start going to a writers group despite my severe anxiety at the outset. It was totally worth it.
  • I forced myself to start submitting Redlisted to agents, again, despite my fear of everything and my constant feelings of dread when it comes to anything related to the writing industry.
  • I made some awesome costumes! Best costumes yet!
  • I feel like my performances came a long way. I am satisfied watching my videos in a way I haven't been in the past.

I would really like to hear what YOU did this year that you are proud of.


2012 is coming. I better get some stuff done before the world ends. (John Hodgman says it will and I find his books to be totally credible. In fact they are pretty much my most trusted sources of information, ever.)

Last year I went insane with monthly checklists (you can easily find them in the archives) and all kinds of related self-flagellation. This resulted in a hardcore burnout period, especially after I got my second part time job and said goodbye to a good amount of my free time.

I've transitioned into a kinder "do what you can" philosophy since then. I try not to stress about the things I'm not getting done because that list is infinitely long and contemplating it too deeply will make me go insane. Instead I might as well try to enjoy life and feel good about myself from time to time.

Still, there are some things I'd like to get done in 2012. Here are some of them.

  • I would like to finish the first draft of my second novel. Right now it's about half done, and I think if I make it a priority for a few months it will materialize.
  • I would like to produce another Doomsday Cabaret show.
  • I would like to get in better shape. If possible I would like to be able to run a ten minute mile. (That may not sound too fast, but, let me tell you, it would be an improvement over the current situation.)
  • I'd like to write a few more short stories and it would be great if I could get a short story published.
  • I want to spend less time on Facebook and more time reading.
  • I'd like to make at least one more bellydance costume.
  • I want to feel good about what I perform at TribalCon, which will mean preparing well.
  • I'd like to teach some workshops out of town (although I don't have much control over whether or not that comes to pass).
  • I'd like to write an article about bellydance and publish it somewhere.
  • I want to save more money and eat more fruits and vegetables. (Exciting!!)

And of course, I wish and hope that I will find a good agent for my book, and I'm going to try my best, but in the end it's not up to me. If I haven't found an agent by the end of 2012 I will probably go ahead and self-publish on Amazon, and I'm excited that possibility for its own reasons.

What are your resolutions?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Auto Bio

So I have been avoiding querying specific agents because they ask for a writer bio. As someone with no publication credits (yet! I am in the process of trying to find a home for a short story I am actually quite proud of) and no qualifications, I have no idea what the hell to say about myself. I hope it doesn't sound jaded to say that I feel like turdpolishing is necessary. I am just another eccentric among eccentrics who thinks they wrote something people might want to buy.

If I were to tell the truth unvarnished by what I think people want to hear, my bio would probably go something like this:

Sara Beaman was born in 1984 in a small town in New York and raised by Dungeons and Dragons nerds. She grew up a lonely brainiac with impeccable fashion sense (discounting a long stretch of years including middle school, high school, college and her early adult life). Like many other children who suck at sports, she thoroughly enjoyed reading science fiction and fantasy novels while avoiding projectiles thrown by other children at recess.

At some point she moved to North Carolina, where she met her future husband at a high school for unsociable technology enthusiasts. Then, thinking she would like to become a graphic designer, she enrolled in the North Carolina State University College of Design. Her mother warned her not to, and, indeed, it was an ill-advised course of action which left her full of ennui. After only a year and a half she dropped out of design school, preferring to study the history of human misery at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill instead.

During her idle years as a student Sara began studying the exotic art of bellydance, perhaps as a way to distract herself from her existential dread. After graduation, she worked a short stint at a temp agency, then a somewhat longer stint as a secretary at UNC. Then she decided to quit her perfectly acceptable job to pursue a career as a full time bellydancer. Then the economy tanked.

Now she thinks she'd probably like to be a novelist instead. She is willing to work hard and try her best. She would like to be able to provide publication credits but she is honestly dreadful at coming up with ideas for short stories. She has written like three, all told, and one of them is kind of crap.

But really, writing is what calls to the jaded remnants of her soul. She is serious about it and will totally do whatever it takes.

Sara resides in Raleigh, North Carolina with her misanthrope husband and her rescue dog Lola who loves humans quite a bit.

LOL okay but seriously I need to write something I can actually send to people. :(

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Doomsday Footage!

Sometimes I still find time to dance. This is improv, and was shot by my awesome videographer dad. The song is "Cabaret Macabre" by Raquy and the Cavemen.

I hope you enjoy!