I was elevated this past weekend to the Order of the Laurel. I’m overjoyed and I’ll probably start writing about all of my thoughts as they come but first, I will give you that which was, seriously, the most frequently given piece of thought given in my vigil, because it’s relevant to all of us. It’s basically a distillation of the “PLQs” — Don’t Be A Jerk.
While that last word varied, the sentiment was the same.
The other thing I want to share is this:
You Never Know.
I was given a tiny frog with a charm attached to it, which read “You Never Know.” Those words came back again and again in their relevance and reflection on the day – and I want you to have them.
There was one story that came up on a few occasions in my vigil – one story more than any others. The nature of it surprised me because it was not about a success, a triumph, a great work, but about a very public failure.
I entered a Bardic Champions event two years after I’d served in the role of royal bard. I was singing a piece that was meaningful to me, that I’d written. I’d practiced my fingers off to create a harp accompaniment for it. I knew and respected all the judges, loved the sitting royalty, and while it was an exhibition for me, it was important. And the performance was in honor of a friend who couldn’t be there. I was well respected, I had a little mythos around me after my time as Champion. People knew who I was.
I tanked. Spectacularly. My fingers failed to find the notes. I was sweaty and lost confidence. I lost my key. Then as I desperately tried to correct, I started forgetting the words. It was like losing control of a jet, then when you try to regain control, you pull off the steering mechanism instead. Then looking back, you see the tail is on fire and the wings are falling off. I could have ejected but instead, I laughed the laugh of the damned in the middle of the song, girded my loins, and the rode that performance straight into the ground where I buried it in twelve feet of mud and when done, I crawled out and stood on its smoldering wreckage. It was so terrible that my friends just stared in disbelief, trying to look more polite than horrified. There was video, but it was so bad that the videographer wouldn’t even share it privately with me, saying that some things are better left alone. It was actually the worst performance of my life. (And I’m not even kidding.)
After my bow, I walked off the stage and started laughing. It was just so amazingly horrible. It was so bad that people didn’t even pretend that it wasn’t to be polite. (I’m laughing now so hard that my eyes are watering.)
It was that performance, above all my other (solid, good performances), which affected people who were there the most.
Why? It was an inadvertent ode to failure and risk. It went from tragedy to lesson because I laughed. It was so far from perfect – the polar opposite. But it was a reminder for me to not take myself seriously and I laughed because really, what else is there to do in the face of failure?
You Never Know.
I didn’t know until my vigil how many people reflected on that moment when they were undertaking something new, something they felt unconfident about.
That failure proved inspirational. (!) Because I could fail (ha! often! just not so publicly!) and that at the end I laughed at myself. Bearing witness to that spectacle gave them permission to go ahead and try something and if it failed – it’s ok. If it’s not great at a contest – it’s ok. If it isn’t taken seriously – it’s ok. Even if people give you a little pity for it – it’s ok. Just do the thing.
At the end of the day, it’s about you and your art and what makes you happy.
So, my friends, share your process and failures. Show others what you’ve learned in those failures. They’re possibly more important than your successes – because that’s how learning goes.
You Never Know.