Another personality trait of mine (seeing as I seem to be throwing them around a lot lately) is I am the last person to ever admit I was wrong. Wait: Scratch that. I am prone to glossing over my failures. (There, that’s much more truthful.)
This hasn’t helped me in all situations, which is understandable. As a contributing member of The Working World, I realized early that admitting fault was actually an admirable trait, especially in one both young and female (in the old and male profession of architecture, that is). Now? Now I am past young, and am past the peculiarities of my chosen profession. Now, though, I wonder about the educational value of failure.
As humans, we learn by failing. It starts when we have the barest grasp of any ability. Fail to cry, fail to get soothed and fed: it’s an easy cause/effect lesson to learn as an infant. But perhaps the word “failure” is an awkward one on our tongues, as it is on mine: perhaps the word I should be using is more enabling, more encouraging, more…more of a soft landing. Like mistakes, like simple error.
In the mail last week I received my loaned-out copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The friend to whom I had loaned it is my best friend from college: she has just moved to the wilds of Athens, Georgia, and has recently voiced a putative interest in locavoreism. So I was curious what she thought of the book. “Not enough stories of failure,” said she. And it was true: this book, though wonderful, does gloss over the difficulties their family had in securing local food. Excepting turkey sex, this is a story of successes.
Failure on the farm is an easy prospect. With little knowledge and less skill, one can rapidly go through lots of money and time. Add to this the fickleness that is weather, one can lose whole crops of things. Failure, then, if it does nothing for the farmer, at least makes good copy: it makes an interesting story. Giants in the Earth this is not, though; I am no Ma Ingalls. My family’s very existence is not dependent upon my ability to extract things from our soil. But, without hubris, I can fairly say my family’s lives are made more interesting by the giants I find in our earth.
But failure, here on my own farm? Well! Take a glimpse at the mostly empty root cellar. (It’s the uninsulated back stairwell to the basement. A nice feature, incidentally, and an easy if inadvertent coldcellar.) NO Brussels sprouts, no Napa cabbage, just a few onions, no mounds of carrots. All these lovelies rotted in the ground in our wet, wet August with our heavy, icky soil. It’s the Brussels sprouts I most miss; at the time of the loss, I was well on my way to having my largest crop ever of 8 purple and 24 green plants. I have done what I can to secure their replacements from other local organic farms, and have no fear that we’ll starve. But am I disappointed? Damn straight I am.