The Account (A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #29)

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And during those drifting years, when the peaks were low and the valleys were deep, my futility found a particular nadir during my stint on Capitol Hill, where I briefly worked for a United States Senator. I believed in government in those days, and in politicians, and in myself and other young people, and—well, you’ve heard this story before. Young idealist goes to Washington, loses ideals. Ho hum.

This is not that story.

Not exactly, anyway. I could say that this story raises some deep issues about personal identity, origins, and longing for the unattainable, the unrecoverable. I could say it’s about the permanent absence we all hold within us, from the moment we leave the womb to the walk across the high school gym floor to receive our diploma…

I could say that, but we don’t need to be that pompous about it. This is a story about fitting in and not fitting in. That’s it.

(Eh, who am I kidding? I wish it was only that. The truth is that’s it’s a story about more than that. The truth is something much worse.) Continue reading

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Authors I Love: Penelope Fitzgerald

I’ve written before about the great Penelope Fitzgerald, an author who I think gets woefully overlooked these days. Which is too bad: I love her beautiful, understated style, her deadpan sense of humor, and sneaky-great themes. You should give her books a try if you haven’t already.

But really, why do I like her so much? There are a lot of books I like, and a lot of authors I admire, but something about Fitzgerald resonates deeply with me. I think there are three reasons:

  1. She was a late bloomer
  2. She wrote short books
  3. She was a great aficionado of failure

Those certainly hit close to home!

Yesterday I ran across a great article in the New York Review of Books about Fitzgerald, including this wonderful opening:

Just before Penelope Knox went down from Oxford with a congratulatory First in 1938, she was named a “Woman of the Year” in Isis, the student paper. She wrote a few paragraphs about her university career, dwelling solely on what had gone wrong.

Ah, Penelope. How can you not love such a person? I’ve been laughing all day, just thinking about it.

Here’s my own passage on failure (from The Race):

“Who’s he?” Tina said to the Governor in the foyer.

“My biographer!”

I explained that it was actually an autobiography – I was just helping him do some organization.

“Don’t sell yourself short!” the Governor said, gripping my shoulder.

I had not intended this comment to be self-deprecating – in fact it was something of the opposite. I wanted her to know that he had been writing his memoirs, that he was paying me – not that I was so drawn to his story that I, on my own initiative… I was not a vulture looking to feast on their marital carcass… but at that moment one of his boys crossed through the room we were standing in and disappeared into the hallway and the Governor chased after him to see how he was doing.

I stayed with Tina in the foyer. She clearly didn’t know what to do with me. I had no options but to stand there. Finally she invited me into the living room where we did not sit down but ventured into small talk.

It surprised me that she recognized my last name.

“Are you Mandy’s brother?”

“She’s a second cousin,” I said.

“And you live in D.C. now? What do you do there?”

I saw a flicker of approval, or at least curiosity. I was one of the ones who had left. Yet I was not such a success that she’d heard of me. I told her I was basically a lawyer.

“Basically?” She smiled faintly. I got the sense that she liked people. She hated her husband, but he was not in the room at the moment.

“I guess I am one,” I said. “It’s not something I ever thought I’d be.”

“A long story?”

I nodded.

She looked down the hallway. Now I saw her full smile; it dazzled me. “We’ve got time,” she said with a shrug.

“It’s strange,” I began, “to feel, every minute of every day, that you’re only pretending to be something that you’re not. I went to law school, I’m a member of the bar, I get paid to do the tasks that lawyers do. I meet with clients, go to court, conference with judges – and yet I never feel like it’s me doing these things. It’s not what I feel like I really am.”

She smiled warmly. “And what do you feel like you really are?”

“A failure,” I said.

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The Race: A Novella by Jacke Wilson is available now at Amazon.com. A longer excerpt is available here.

Confession Time! What’s The Worst Thing You’ve Ever Done?

Readers! I’m putting together the next episode of The Jacke Wilson Show and I could use your help thinking through some issues.

Let me know (email or comments) your answers to the following:

  1. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?
  2. How often do you think about it?
  3. Why was it the worst?
  4. Why do you think about it as often (or as little) as you do?

Got it? That’s it! I’ll keep everything anonymous.

I have a special corollary question:

  1. Is there some small bad thing that you’ve done that you think about way too much?
  2. What is it?
  3. Why do you think it sticks in your mind?

Feel free to answer some or all of the above questions – or craft a response that has nothing to do with any of them. No pressure to follow rules! Just let me know what you’re thinking! Pour your heart out on the page!

Back to School Day 4 – Friday Night Fail

Our back to school week concludes with a special Friday evening post. A testament to those nights behind the school, under the lights, on a hundred-yard stretch of grass carved out of the cornfields. And the pluck and fight of a group of boys who just cannot win. And their coaches, who cannot be the heroes. High school success is easy to deal with. (What comes after might be harder.)

But what about failure? What about knowing that this is as good as it gets – and you and everyone around you is lousy at it? And what if the grownups in charge are as hopeless and doomed as you are?

That’s right. It’s Object #1 – The Padlock:

I looked around. It was raining hard now. Everyone else was gone, headed back to the locker room. It was only me, and Coach Ditka, and a desperate man engaged in the struggle of his life.

“Let’s go, Cold Ones,” Coach Ditka said. “Get it done.”

We’ll get back to some writers laughing and other assorted content now. But first, good luck to all those students out there. Hope you have a fantastic academic year!

The Failure of the Unpublished Author: Dead or Dying?

We’re fans of failure on this blog (as we are in life). And of course, The Race: A Novella has a failed lawyer as one of its pole stars. Now Tim Parks brings things full circle with a look at failed writers, which of course we’re HUGE fans of as well, when we’re not self-hating them. (Oh boy – are we back in the artists as narcissists tangle? Let’s move on.)

While Parks is very good at describing the burning desire of struggling authors to receive some kind of validation, and the intense, all-consuming focus on publication that young writers feel. His post takes an interesting direction with a look at the other side: how quickly a published author closes the door behind him or her: Continue reading

Penelope Fitzgerald and Failure (and Free Fiction!)

Still thinking about Penelope Fitzgerald and being drawn to failure. And it made me think of this passage in The Race: A Novella (available now at Amazon.com!), in which the narrator first meets the Governor’s wife:

“Who’s he?” Tina said to the Governor in the foyer.

“My biographer!”

I explained that it was actually an autobiography – I was just helping him do some organization.

“Don’t sell yourself short!” the Governor said, gripping my shoulder.

I had not intended this comment to be self-deprecating – in fact it was something of the opposite. I wanted her to know that he had been writing his memoirs, that he was paying me – not that I was so drawn to his story that I, on my own initiative… I was not a vulture looking to feast on their marital carcass… but at that moment one of his boys crossed through the room we were standing in and disappeared into the hallway and the Governor chased after him to see how he was doing.

I stayed with Tina in the foyer. She clearly didn’t know what to do with me. I had no options but to stand there. Finally she invited me into the living room where we did not sit down but ventured into small talk.

It surprised me that she recognized my last name.

“Are you Mandy’s brother?”

“She’s a second cousin,” I said.

“And you live in D.C. now? What do you do there?”

I saw a flicker of approval, or at least curiosity. I was one of the ones who had left. Yet I was not such a success that she’d heard of me. I told her I was basically a lawyer.

“Basically?” She smiled faintly. I got the sense that she liked people. She hated her husband, but he was not in the room at the moment.

“I guess I am one,” I said. “It’s not something I ever thought I’d be.”

“A long story?”

I nodded.

She looked down the hallway. Now I saw her full smile; it dazzled me. “We’ve got time,” she said with a shrug.

“It’s strange,” I began, “to feel, every minute of every day, that you’re only pretending to be something that you’re not. I went to law school, I’m a member of the bar, I get paid to do the tasks that lawyers do. I meet with clients, go to court, conference with judges – and yet I never feel like it’s me doing these things. It’s not what I feel like I really am.”

She smiled warmly. “And what do you feel like you really are?”

“A failure,” I said.

 

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The Race: A Novella by Jacke Wilson is available now at Amazon.com. A longer excerpt is available here.

Copyright 2013 by Jacke Wilson. All rights reserved.