Embracing the Unreal

Gapingvoid - people who fail

This is not writing. Well, not “real writing. According to some.

Whatever it is, I have been doing it for a complete decade as of today. Recently, life has indeed seemed a bit unreal. So it is hard to determine the ‘real’ from the ‘unreal’. With the override role of cognitive bias in the human condition, the only “real” answer is constant questioning. Especially self-questioning. And whatever this blog is, it does that.

Seth Godin penned in his own blog a fine defence for the “unreal” in his post Walking away from "real"

  • As in, ‘that’s not a real football team, they don’t play in Division 1’ or ‘That stock isn’t traded on a real exchange’ or ‘Your degree isn’t from a real school."Real contains all sorts of normative assumptions and implicit criticisms for those that don’t qualify. Real is just one way to reject the weird. My problem with the search for the badge of real is that it trades your goals and your happiness for someone else’s.”

Embracing failure often means debunking fallacies (ie. failure of knowledge) and this “real writing” arrogance does sort of wreak of the “Real Scotsman” fallacy (ie. a logical fallacy that occurs when: during argument, after their favored group has been criticized, someone re-defines the group in order to deflect uncomfortable counter-examples and thus makes the group entirely praiseworthy).

Blogs get poo-poo’d by the pros as not ‘real writing. But I have been in the fraternity of ‘professional writers’ both as an overseas correspondent in Africa and commissioning work in my role at Microsoft marketing. I can tell you right now that a very large majority of ‘professional’ (or ‘real’) writing is in no way real. Rehashed press releases, anodyne stringing together of buzzwords, pay-per-word padding. Echoing Seth’s sentiments, most of this material is also written to the lowest common denominator or normality and unexceptionality.

But it is in the printed world where the embrace of failure to secure a publisher is most interesting. My mother adapted my letters home when I was in Africa into a self-published book. At first, I thought it would be a book that ‘only a mother would love’, but it kept her busy in her new phase of retirement so it seemed harmless. The book hasn’t been a best-seller, but it has been a great way to share a part my experience with not just extended friends and family, but also with other people interested in the topic. My father self-published ‘Shorelines’ and it is in many ways a culmination of his life’s work as a clergyman. Our daughter, Isley, self-published a book of poetry after getting more and more popular on the poetry recital and spoken work circuit and having people ask for a copy of her work. Our son, Chase, self-produced a field recording album “Four Points” and it turned out that the British Library wanted a copy for its archive (being an creative acoustic illustration of the British Isles).

Amateurish? Get real.

Great Day for Failure

Gapingvoid - new success


International Failure Day again! A fun website at “Day for Failure” is full of fun ways to celebrate like deliberately ruining a cake or taking a terrible picture. I’ve decided to share a quotation (from my massive collection) never before posted on the blog for every hour of this noble day…

  1. If you want the rainbow, you got to put up with the rain.” — Steve Wright
  2. Adversity is like a strong wind. It…tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be.” — Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
  3. An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. When life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming” — Unknown
  4. "Obstacles are necessary for success because in selling, as in all careers of importance, victory comes only after many struggles and countless defeats." — Og Mandino
  5. "Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging." — Joseph Campbell
  6. "The number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I can fail and keep on trying." — Tom Hopkins
  7. Never deny yourself an experience just because it’s unknown or uncomfortable — it may just be a defining and wonderful part of your life.” — The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien:
  8. Güneşte yanmayan gölgenin kıymetini bilmez.” [Who has never been burned in the sun won’t know the value of shadow] — Turkish saying
  9. My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon.” — Japanese Poet Masahide
  10. Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour.” —  Truman Capote
  11. What’s the best mistake you ever made?” — “How to Fail Wisely”, Fortune
  12. The road to success is paved with well-handled mistakes.” — Neiman Marcus from Eric Pretorious (thanks Bret)
  13. The only path to amazing runs directly through not-yet-amazing.” — Seth Godin, “Overcoming the impossibility of amazing
  14. Good judgment is usually the result of experience.  And experience is frequently the result of bad judgement.” — Architecture and Engineering Performance Information Center (AEPIC) at University of Maryland
  15. "Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind." — Aristotle
  16. "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail Better." -Samuel Beckett (thanks Eileen)
  17. "To me, a great leader has walked through the darkness of their own flaws and chooses therefore to interact in the spirit of love without fear with anyone who crosses their path." — Sandrit (thanks Phil Duoardo)
  18. “If I fail more than you, I win.” –— Addicted2Success
  19. “If you don’t fail at least 90 percent of the time, you’re not aiming high enough.” — Alan Kay (thanks Aidan)
  20. "Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself." — Eleanor Roosevelt
  21.  The most successful industry [information technology] of the last forty years has been built on failure after failure after failure.” — Tim Harford
  22.  He was not a very careful person as a mathematician. Me made a lot of mistakes in a good direction…I tried to imitate him but I found that it is very difficult to make good mistakes.” — Goro Shimura on Yataka Taniyama
  23.  Don’t fall in love with your solution — fall in love with the problem.” — Jeff deGraff
  24. A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials." — Seneca


Gapingvoid - fear of failure

Embracing Your True Self

Today is National Coming Out Day. It takes place in October, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender History Month. So a chance to dip into the commencement address archives for poignant story of coming out and embracing the pain and failure that sadly accompanies it too often.

Ellen Degeneres is one of my favourite comediennes. I think American society has come a long way since networks small-mindedly ripped the delightful “Ellen” sitcom (that we diligently watched each week of its run) from the viewing schedule after her coming out announcement.

Ellen Degeneres graduated not only from the “school of hard knocks” (“our mascot was the Knockers”) including losing a girlfriend to a car accident. But most prominent is the intense, high-impact pressure piled on her for her sexual orientation and the huge toll her authenticity took on her life (thanks Dave)…

  • “I decided to come out and make it creative. And my character would come out at the same time, and it wasn’t to make a political statement, it wasn’t to do anything other than to free myself up from this heaviness that I was carrying around. And I just wanted to be honest. And I thought ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ I could lose my career. I did. I lost my career. The show was cancelled after 6 years (without even telling me, I read it in the paper). The phone didn’t ring for three years. I had no offers, nobody wanted to touch me at all. And yet I was getting letters from kids that almost committed suicide but didn’t because of what I did. And I realize that I had a purpose. And it wasn’t about me and it wasn’t about celebrity. I felt like I was being punished. It was a bad time. I was angry. I was sad. And then I was offered a talk show. And the people who offered me the talk show tried to sell it and most stations didn’t want to pick it up. Most people didn’t want to buy it because they thought that no one would watch me. And really when I look back on it, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was so important for me to lose everything because I found out that what was important was to be true to yourself. And ultimately that’s what has gotten me to this place.”

This Error is a Sign of Love

Otter ice crack

  • "Man has to seek God in error and forgetfulness and foolishness." — Meister Eckhart

National Poetry Day today. No shortage of verse embracing failure. In fact, this very blog started with a poem. Today’s selection was referenced by Patrick O’Neil’s sermon “Coded for Error”.

This Error is the Sign of Loveby Lewis Hyde

  • This error is the sign of love, the crack in the ice where the otters breathe,
    the tear that saves a man from power,
    the puff of smoke blown down the chimney one morning, and the widower sighs and
    gives up his loneliness,
    the lines transposed in the will so the widow must scatter coins from the cliff instead
    of ashes and she marries again, for love,
    the speechlessness of lovers that forces them to leave it alone while it sends up its
    first pale shoot like an onion sprouting in the pantry,
    this error is the sign of love.

    The leak in the nest, the hole in the coffin,
    the crack in the picture plate a young girl fills with her secret life to survive the grade school,
    the retarded twins who wanter house to house, eating, ’til the neighbors have become neighbors.
    The teacher’s failings in which the students ripen,
    Luther’s fit in the choir, Darwin’s dyspepsia, boy children stuttering in the gunshop,
    boredom, shyness, bodily discomforts like long rows of white stones at the edge of the highway,
    blown head gaskets, darkened choir lofts, stolen kisses,
    this error is the sign of love.

    The nickel in the butter churn, the farthing in the cake,
    the first reggae rhythms like seasonal cracks in a government building,
    the rain-damaged instrument that taught us the melodies of black emotion and red and yellow emotion,
    the bubble of erotic energy escaped from a marriage and a week later the wife dreams of a tiger,
    the bee that flies into the guitar and hangs transfixed in the sound of sound ’til all his
    wetness leaves him and he rides that high wind to the Galapagos,
    this error is the sign of love.

    The fault in the sea floor where the fish linger and mate,
    the birthmark that sets the girl apart and years later she alone of the sisters finds her calling,
    Whitman’s idiot brother whom he fed luke the rest of us,
    those few seconds Bréton fell asleep and dreamed of a pit of sand with the water starting to flow,
    the earth’s wobbling axis uncoiling seasons–seed that need six months of drought,
    flowers shaped for the tongues of moths, summertime
    and death’s polarized light caught beneath the surface of Florentine oils,
    this error is the sign of love.

    The beggar buried in the cathedral,
    the wisdom-hole in the façade of the library,
    the hail storm in a South Dakota town that started the Farmers’ Cooperative in 1933,
    the Sargasso Sea that gives false hope to sailors and they sail one and find a new world,
    the picnic basket that slips overboard and leads to the invention of the lobster trap,
    the one slack line in a poem where the listener relaxes and suddenly the poem is in
    your heart like a fruit wasp in an apple,
    this error is the sign of love!

God is in the details. Humanity is in the errors.

The Courage to Embrace Mental Frailty



National Depression Screening Day 2016 in the USA is a nationwide initiative sponsored by Screening for Mental Health who have developed educational programmes , and provide screening for common behavioural and mental health disorders and suicide. Two of my favourite discussions on the subject provide an inspired perspective on the challenges both tinged with lessons of embracing this adversity instead of running or hiding from it…

  • Kevin Breel TED Talk “Confessions of a Depressed Comic” – “It’s the stigma inside of others, it’s the shame, it’s the embarrassment, it’s the disapproving look on a friend’s face, it’s the whispers in the hallway that you’re weak, it’s the comments that you’re crazy. That’s what keeps you from getting help. That’s what makes you hold it in and hide it. It’s the stigma…Depression is okay. If you’re going through it, know that you’re okay. And know that you’re sick, you’re not weak, and it’s an issue, not an identity, because when you get past the fear and the ridicule and the judgment and the stigma of others, you can see depression for what it really is, and that’s just a part of life, just a part of life, and as much as I hate, as much as I hate some of the places, some of the parts of my life depression has dragged me down to, in a lot of ways I’m grateful for it. Because yeah, it’s put me in the valleys, but only to show me there’s peaks, and yeah it’s dragged me through the dark but only to remind me there is light. My pain, more than anything in 19 years on this planet, has given me perspective, and my hurt, my hurt has forced me to have hope, have hope and to have faith, faith in myself, faith in others, faith that it can get better, that we can change this, that we can speak up and speak out and fight back against ignorance, fight back against intolerance, and more than anything, learn to love ourselves, learn to accept ourselves for who we are, the people we are, not the people the world wants us to be. Because the world I believe in is one where embracing your light doesn’t mean ignoring your dark. The world I believe in is one where we’re measured by our ability to overcome adversities, not avoid them. The world I believe in is one where I can look someone in the eye and say, ‘I’m going through hell,’ and they can look back at me and go, ‘Me too,’ and that’s okay, and it’s okay because depression is okay. We’re people. We’re people, and we struggle and we suffer and we bleed and we cry, and if you think that true strength means never showing any weakness, then I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. You’re wrong, because it’s the opposite. We’re people, and we have problems. We’re not perfect, and that’s okay. So we need to stop the ignorance, stop the intolerance, stop the stigma, and stop the silence.”
  • David Baddiel Sunday Times interview It’s not soft to say you’re depressed. It’s hard as hell”: “Another model of the depression-prone male: young, working class, often not from London, and with no template for talking about the disease – indeed, no sense of what it is at all…But there are legions of men out there for whom depression is a sign only of unmanliness. Suicide – particularly killing yourself by hanging (the most, for want of a better word, popular form) – can conform with something tragic, even glamorous in the mind of the man searching for manliness…I would contend that this is one of the most acutely necessary interventions of our age, not just because male depression is an epidemic, but also because the inability of men to talk about negative emotions – to discuss how in their own minds they don’t feel like men – is what drives some into the arms of movements like Isis…The most important thing is somehow to get the message out that an admission of mental frailty is manly: it’s manly because it is courageous.”

Embracing People Who Disagree with US


A different sort of quadrennial competition for the top spot is into the final round now – the US Presidential Election – with the nominee Debates starting tonight. This particular election has culminated a decades long trend of increasing acrimony and divisiveness.

As the bitterness and mud-slinging was well-documented to have started on the Republican side (eg. Nixon’s Southern Strategy), it is inspiring to hear a Conservative make the appeal for more civility and collaboration with Arthur Brooks TED talk, “A conservative’s plea: Let’s work together”…

  • “Action item number one: remember, it’s not good enough just to tolerate people who disagree. It’s not good enough. We have to remember that we need people who disagree with us, because there are people who need all of us who are still waiting for these tools…Number two: I’m asking you and I’m asking me to be the person specifically who blurs the lines, who is ambiguous, who is hard to classify. If you’re a conservative, be the conservative who is always going on about poverty and the moral obligation to be a warrior for the poor. And if you’re a liberal, be a liberal who is always talking about the beauty of free markets to solve our problems when we use them responsibly.”

It is tempting to want to block our Friends and Followers who sit on a different side of the political spectrum, but actually, I learn more from my contrarians than I do from memes which reflect how I already feel. Posts rom the other side of the issue make me re-examine the principles and evidence behind my personal stance. It forces me to understand where that person is coming from to identify common-ground and bridges to compromise.


Embracing Collapse


Two of the heroes of the Olympics demonstrated what humility is all about at the conclusion of the Triathlon World Series in Mexico this week. With brother Jonny I the lead when he succumbed to near collapse, his brother Alistair, in second position, came to his aid. Jonny recounted in a great BBC Interview

  • “’Alistair had the chance to win but threw that away to help me out,’ said Jonny, who led the race until temperatures of 33C got the better of him around 1.5km from the end. ‘I’ll be thankful for the rest of my life. Obviously it takes a very strong and good person to do that. Sometimes in sport we talk about winning being the most important thing in the world. A lot of times it is, but maybe helping a brother out was more important.’"