The Art of Failure

I need to preface this blog post by telling you that I am high. I don’t mean that metaphorically in a Nancy Reagan kind of way with me being high on life. I am actually high on painkillers ranging from over the counter pills to don’t-ask-me-where-I-got-this kind of pills.

For over a month, I have been on Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW). I have been using these commonly prescribed creams for eczema since I was ten and now, after 28 years and the most dreadful search on the internet as to why I have been both chronically ill for most of my life with at least one bleeding lesion on my body at a time, I am on full cessation. This has meant that the simple act of turning my head renders my neck bleeding and burning and that I am living with an average of 1.5 hours of sleep a night, with the rest of the evening spent scratching myself in tears. The good news is, this suffering will be for a finite amount of time (six months to two years), and that, with the blessing of my amazing naturopath, I am managing pain with everything from topical cannabis oil to smoking kush to Advil just to get through the withdrawal period.

These pain management strategies are not the reason why I am starting with a reference from The Simpsons though. Trust.

Not sure if you remember the episode where the homophobic Homer was saved by the neighborhood gay from imminent disaster. “Homer, I won your respect—and all I had to do was save your life. Now, if every gay man could just do the same, you’d be set.”

Somewhere between the incessant scratching and toking up, I realized I had to write this blog post about the art of failure. Failure as in the chance to try again. Failure as in the opportunity to see things in a new perspective. Failure as in not this time.

You see, in this place of chronic and excruciating pain, I am sitting in the deepest pool of the most clarifying failure. I am failing to perform until at least the summer. I am failing at being present for friends and family. Putting a bra on. Wearing something other than soft cotton sweat pants. Making food for my family. Really hugging my daughter goodnight. Putting sentences together. Being present at community functions. Writing often and well.

I am failing at all of this, every day as I pray for this torture, this torture given to me by the Medical Industrial Complex, by each pharmaceutical executive comfortably eating in their fancy homes. I am failing.

Going back to this Simpsons reference, I am realizing that my moving through life, and perhaps yours as well, has been revolving around the idea of not failing. That we as queers need to never fail at being the creatures we are so as not to prove that we are the anomalies heteronormative society deems us to be. Just like media portrays people of different abilities as worthless unless they prove their worth (Whoa! Did that blind woman just make a sculpture of Lionel Richie? Did that one-armed man just hit a home run?) us queers are often on a constant quest to prove the excellence of our otherness.

  • We want our children to excel at school.
  • We want our bodies to be beautiful.
  • We want our relationships to last for a lifetime.
  • We want to be held by audiences, by industries, by communities as talented and exceptional.

The truth is this:

  • Our kids are awesome, although sometimes intolerable and will learn love and life as long as we trust them to do so.
  • Our bodies are beautiful in so many ways beyond the spectrum of colour and shape that heteronormative society can even see.
  • Our relationships last as long as they are meant to, full of lessons and learning, for impermanence is something to be celebrated.
  • We are exceptional in just being who we are, with or without the affirmation.

So what I am trying to tell you is that we all are radical acts of love in our stillness. That we needn’t do a goddamn thing for us to shine.

In closing, I want to leave you with a quote from my play I Cannot Lie to the Stars that Made Me, which I was in residence for at Buddies last summer when I knew much less about failure. I can’t wait to see you all face to face on the other side of this.

“You must smarten up. No more consolation prizes, no more half-empties, no more living in the pin-prick shadows of the holes in their hearts.

You must eat well. Sleep. Congratulate yourself. You made it through one more day, this act of resistance by simply existing.

For mourning is moving and you have moved mountains simply by breathing and being here.”

Catherine Hernandez

Catherine Hernandez is playwright, performer and award-winning author. She is the author of M is for Mustache: A Pride ABC Book (Flamingo Rampant) and Scarborough (Arsenal Pulp Press). She is the Artistic Director of b current performing arts.

Read all posts by Catherine Hernandez

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