FAILURE WORKS – The Blog Begins

The author
The author

Let me just say from the onset I have no agenda, nor any ax to grind. I seek neither credit nor blame for what exists, and profess neither infallibility nor rancor. And though I decry and bemoan like the rest, let it be known these are but the eyes of experience, nothing more.


When the first chill winds began to haunt the eaves of the Beacon Street turret, and ragged-edged leaves tumbled down the cracked gray sidewalks like passing fragments of thought, I’d walk the few blocks up to Cleveland Circle for my morning rounds. Inside Eagles Cafe, I’d sit over a steaming cup of coffee and browse the morning Globe as the Green Line trolley clattered toward town beneath the heavy, leaden clouds. Sitting there, I knew that the Circle would soon be footed with mounds of snow and that walking would be reduced to a single, slippery lane.

It was routine these seasons in New England, their turning, my adjustments, and moods. But just as in my boyhood home in St. Louis, I never found in their rhythms the comfort, the true joys of winter—other than for them to be over.  Sure, I enjoyed a good hunker every now and again (who doesn’t?) but in this, my adopted city of Boston, the fierce nor’easter storms would howl for days at a time, leaching precious cheer from the hearts of the people.

In the Midwest, there were spring and summer tornadoes that could kill you. In Florida came the threatening shroud of hurricanes and deadly bolts of lightning. California had its wildfires and earthquakes, but in New England, while there weren’t any overt acts of nature that threatened life and limb, there was a weather that just made you want to kill yourself.

In the long run, I guess, it was just such weather that created the flinty, tough New England character. And I must admit that, like all runners, I seemed to flourish in the hard, daunting conditions while at speed, embracing rather than avoiding winter’s cold, metallic hand. But overall I fancied myself more of a spring/fall man more than a summer/winter type.

On my daily rounds in the Circle, to Store 24, Sunshine Laundry, Circle Hardware, Reservoir Provisions, U.S. Bank, or the Bill Rodgers Running Center, I’d invariably be asked of my plans for the long, harsh months ahead.

“Well, there’s December in Hawaii to cover the Honolulu Marathon,” I’d say. “Then to Gainesville, Florida for three months before returning to Boston in April for The Marathon.”

Invariably, this would elicit an offer to carry my luggage. And we’d laugh in that way that confirms nothing funny had been said. But it also led to a broader, ‘how-can-I-get-a-job-like-yours’ line of inquiry – mine viewed as traipsing about the planet covering the sport of running for television and print. A job tied to, in essence, no heavy lifting. But when I divulged my manner to such work, nobody seemed to want to believe, much less assume a similar tack.

In fact, truth be told, the path to your desired occupation is much simpler than one would expect, and a highly underrated element in life’s grand scheme. My key – and fervent recommendation—is massive early failure.

The key, however, lies in the quality of the failure. It must not be rudimentary or half-assed; it must truly be a failure in scale. The point being, the last thing you want to do is peak early in life; no sadder fate than high school being your zenith.  Unless, of course, you are into gymnastics or figure skating where junior high becomes one’s afterlife.

I, for instance, graduated last in my high school class at St. Louis University High School, and today say this with inestimable pride. I figure without me in the anchor position, the kid who finished first would have no definition whatsoever; I served as his bracket. But the real key was in how that failure was accomplished.

It is one thing for teachers to call you stupid.  Anybody can be born stupid, and, of course, many are. But it is quite another if the authorities say, `If only he’d apply himself.’ Now that’s a different motivation altogether. Perhaps you, like me, realized early on, “I don’t think I was born with a self-applicator.” Not all are.

But the lesson I hope to pass along is that it is not an altogether bad thing to be a little lost, very much questioning, and just plain ill at ease at that stage in life, as painful as that may be at the time. It may well be that you are just in the wrong place, and most certainly at the exactly wrong time.

Just as a matter of exposition, let me say that I have always looked at cities as prepositions. And for me, my hometown of St. Louis was a FROM. People from St. Louis tended to marry other people from St. Louis who then spawn another generation of people from St. Louis who only want to know, “where did you go to high school?” so they would know where to place you within the food chain of St. Louis society.

You furrow your brow and wonder, is that really so important once you have begun growing more hair out of your ears and nose than atop your head? But it evidently is in St. Louis, an insulated former large city that has been losing its population base since 1900 when it peaked as the fourth largest city in the nation (another of those god awful early peaks). Seems once Chicago became the rail-head and goods were carried (along with the people) east and west along the rails rather than north and south along the Mississippi River, well, old St. Lou was up a creek, even though it was a rather wide, impressive creek at that. Ergo, I am FROM St. Louis.

After escaping one’s birthplace and establishing your bona fides in abject failure, one’s twenties should then be a decade of experimentation. There is no better way to find out what you should be doing than by discovering what it is you shouldn’t be engaged in. And the way you find that out is by having other people call you into their office to inform you, “This isn’t working out the way we had anticipated. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

Building a resume of firings is an admirable young man/womanhood. Eventually, you will be left with not a first choice, but a last chance. That, you will have found, will be your niche.

So my advice to you is boredom and a good round of firings for a while. Good luck. The best jobs, one learns, devolve from failure. Massive early failure then serves as a timely career enhancer. Such is the manner in coming upon a job like mine where people of all stripes offer to carry your luggage to Hawaii.



6 thoughts on “FAILURE WORKS – The Blog Begins

  1. This is way way past due, Toni. I loved every word. Having grown up in the deadly (in many more ways than one, or two or even three) Midwest, lived for a time in the fantasy-land, roach (the kind that scurry to hide in the wall when you turn the light on at night, not the kind you roll and light) heaven called Orlando, and now settled in Southern CA (very happily, and I might add, not at all in fear for my life, something’s gotta kill you but at least you can appreciate the beautiful scenery before you check out) I appreciated every single sentence. Hurrah for lyrical, passionate writing.

  2. Finally, someone finds the words for it: In the Midwest there were spring and summer tornados that could kill…but in New England, though there weren’t any overt acts of nature that threatened life and limb, there was weather that just made you want to kill yourself.

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