I belong to a small discord group of other self identified fuck ups. These are a bunch of women that I admire greatly. These are the cool girls. The hip females. They are as close a thing I have to female friends, just as much as Ruthie is the closest thing I have to extended family beyond the Boy. When one of them suggested to me they were considering making a group for fellow fuck ups I wondered how she was going to broach the subject with prospective members. “Hi. I see you are a fuck up. Would you like to hang out?”
You would think that would never work, that people would get offended; but that secret handshake between the fuck up sisterhood and brotherhood of self proclaimed failures, is not one of shame, but solidarity. It is a case of saying, Gabba Gabba, you are one of us, and allying oneself to the greater cause of not being the same as everyone else. It takes a lot of chutzpah to declare Fuck-up-dom and own it. It takes verve, and to be frank, who doesn’t admire that kind of force of will and drive? All the best people are Fuck Ups, and I will stick by that maxim to the day I die.
Look at the punk scene. Fuck ups to a man and woman. You don’t get shiny preppy perfection in the Punk community. The poetry is to be found in the piss and shit and spunk and juice and spit of life as it flows from the stage and powers up an audience of other Fuck Ups to pogo wildly and feel free as birds, while crammed into a tiny space in the Bowery wondering if the tall man next to you is accidentally going to knock you out as his limbs flail wildly with abandon and joy and hatred and anger. Angry young men and women rock.
Joni Mitchell once sang: “Hell’s the hippest way to go, well I don’t think so, but I’m gonna take a look around it though, Blue..” Joni knows things. She knows about romantics who hide behind bottles and grouchy behavior. Joni knows about hell and the people you find there. She knows about that thin ‘salty soup’ and how ‘some get nothing though there is plenty to spare’. No successful person takes a hell-ride. The trouble is everybody likes hearing about what goes on in that underworld life while not wanting to live it. That kind of extreme and brightly lived up life is barred to anyone who wants to ally themselves to success, and shopping at Whole Foods, and not being mocked for wearing cheap canvas shoes, but that doesn’t mean that people who do those successful things don’t want a window into Hell. Look at the popularity of gritty dramas set in places and lives that are hardly desirable. It is the human need for intensity that is being satisfied by those who are willing to live at that speed for those who would rather just vacation in a season in Hell.
Isn’t there a certain sick satisfaction to be had in finding out just how bad things can get, just how big and bad a failure can be? Isn’t there a feeling of satiety that fills the soul when confronted with the entire horror of the cruelty of humanity, and the depths that can be plumbed by that death-drive horror? Am I the only one that looks at the terror of history and the depravity and useless waste of life in these modern times, and with a sigh declare that this is the same as it ever was, and therefore feel contained, swaddled by familiarity. It is a soothing feeling of ‘aye, this is how it is!’ Even though things are bad, familiarity is so seductive, that failure almost becomes a bad habit to break.
Better the devil we know is scant comfort, but comfort nevertheless in a world that seems determined to destroy all that is bright and fresh and loving and new and living. Failure, my old friend, I know you well. Come hold my hand and hang with me a while. Nobody likes the unknown. Not even me with my highway tendencies and my adventurous spirit that wanders from this land to that and sometimes back again…but mostly not.
Personal failures are devastating in the microcosm level. Failure to get along with society is punished in a bespoke kind of manner. First they take away your family, then they remove your means of survival. Sometimes they come for your morals, at other times for your peace of mind. Sanity? That is the next to go. Don’t forget to be deemed sane by a group of your peers who demand that you have to be exactly like them, and, my friends, that is often too dire a prospect to even consider. “We are not like them” is dangerous talk, rebellious philosophy. Words like that are swords. Words like that can get someone in trouble, the kind of trouble that cannot be recovered from, the kind of trouble that makes other people suspicious of you. Permanently.
Failure to stay sober, (dealt with by jail time, the hatred of everyone around, a society that declares they have the right to insist on how your brain works…or doesn’t) is not the worst thing that can happen to a Fuck Up. Unfortunately the successful world has certain standards for these particular breed of failures to jibe with the system. If the psychonaut or drunk is successful, artistically or musically, then they will be lauded, given various honors and held up as a folk hero. Look at Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Bukowski…Keith Richards, for fucks sake! Heroes to the last man. Of course, if you are female, then you are shit out of luck. The best that can be hoped for is that you can deny all knowledge of such escapades, and you get to escape with your life and soul intact. All hail Patti Smith, the woman who wrote Poppies, while holding on for dear life to the assertation that she never did anything stronger than hash.
Any individual who fails to produce whilst shamanically imbibing enlightenment, is shamed and subject to the will of other people. Hedonists are seen as the most despicable creatures of all. To be frank I think the conventionally successful are plain old jealous of their freedom to enjoy life for what it is. Misery is a moral obligation to these humorless bastards. Of course, there are those dead-icated to disaster that embrace failure as a kind of shining goal. Eating out of trash cans is saintly to them. Dying in ditches an obligation. It is a crying shame, but at least it is different. The hegemony of homogeneity in our society has reached epic proportions. No straying from the group-think allowed. No debate, no discussion. No difference that is not previously approved of. I swear if society in the USA was offered a dictatorship based on broadly popular principles, wrapped up with a pretty blue bow and called something hip, people would flock to approve it. Tolerance for difference and debate has plummeted. To be frank, I am afraid.
This used to be a society of individuals in the western world, and until very recently a case could be made for arguing that it remained so, until relatively recently. Then the sea change happened, that tipping point was reached, and now this is once again, a society that demands sameness. We are as rigid and correct in our own 2022 ways as we were in 1952. It is not a situation that suits me, or my Fuck Up friends.
I watched an old psychological interview with a woman in 1961. Her ‘illness’? Lesbianism. Use of marijuana and diet pills. They noted her hair was short, her manner of speaking masculine. Fuck. I would have been thrown in that nut house and they would have thrown away the key. “Antisocial personality disorder” they called it. To be frank I want to travel back in time and rescue her, set her free, tell her that she was not crazy, she was just different. Different is not illegal, nor is it insanity, but when someone tries to electric shock therapy someone out of their differences, I suppose the result could easily end up being both of those things. I harbored dark fantasies of travelling back in time, slapping the middle aged white male psych around the face, and breaking her out of there, Thelma and Louise style, and running for the border of 1966, full tilt in a stolen DeLorean.
What is insanity is a society that fails to provide safety or kindness in any decent quantity. What do our little failures matter when the politicians of this world are failing on such an insanely gigantic level? We are living, once again under the spectre of nuclear war, watching a genocide and mass torture happen while we sit here uselessly wringing our hands and waving our flags. What is insanity is a world that is on fire, boiling dry, and subject to extremes of weather, but politicians putting money before survival. Do they not know that money cannot be spent in the grave. Do they not realize that if there is no world left, if humanity is killed, destroyed, wiped mostly off the face of the earth, that there will be no need for their useless money anyhow? I suspect that all these powerful and rich think they will survive the end of the world to continue to rule, but rule over what? Ashes and radioactivity, death and emptiness. A king is a pauper if he has no people to rule over and his kingdom is charcoal and scorched earth.
Failure. Our little failures. Failure to success. Failure not to feel like some kind of wreck or phony – every good writer I know feels like they can’t really write after all. Failure to ‘do well’, to be popular, to be special, to create a life that will be discussed long after our miserable and lonely deaths, failure to be loved and love back with any intensity at all. Failure to be a good mother. Failure to provide a good life. Failure looms over life. It is an occupational hazard of living. Some lucky cats are natural born succeeders. Everything they touch turns to gold and happiness. Others, and I am one of them, have a scary tendency towards failure.
Perhaps it is a personal defect, perhaps I just got unlucky and Fate conspired to have me raised by monsters and marry a pig. If I had been young now I would have not felt I had to be in the closet. Back then I was made to feel like I was not allowed to be a woman who loved women, a woman who didn’t care for girly things and pretty glittery stuff, who thought pink was the ugliest color. Nothing beautiful is pink. It is neither defiantly red, not shiningly pale. It is a mush of a color. I liked emerald greens, and duck egg blues. I liked my hair short and my nails unpainted. I liked my shoes sensible and suitable for kicking and running and hustling. It is not impossible that I personally could have been happier, and perhaps instead of looking around the bare and hungry halls of failure, travelling down that endless highway, running and running with no rest or respite, I could have found warmth, and love and an open door that led to a more successful life.
Life right now doesn’t feel like failure, though I am sure others are looking in at my life and thinking what a fuck up I am, what a loser, what a failure. That is ok by me. I am happy. I have enough. A shower, a clean bed, and at least two meals a day. I could, however, do with a little bit of success to sweeten the pot. I remember reading William Burroughs and him saying that he had to earn money because he had expensive tastes, he liked nice lawns and sunny days. There is nothing wrong with enjoying comfort. There is no superiority to be found in suffering. That is some Christian-diseased hairshirt shit.
There was a time when other people’s verdict on my actions would have bothered me intensely. Nowadays I really don’t give a damn. I suppose my desperation, my dedication to drastic change, my choice to leave behind everything and strike out with absolutely nothing has transformed me into an optimist, a believer in the impossible. What I do care about is perhaps gaining a measure of success, a modicum of approval. I care about my writing. I believe in the impossible. I believe that I can actually do something that will stand the test of time, that will mark me out as a success of some sort.
I care to stay in this apartment with my son. I care to drink mugs of tea and make my cacti explode in pink flowers. I will always be a fuck up. I will always be a failure. I just hope to be a successful failure, and that the world doesn’t end before I achieve something worth something, and if in the end, all I managed was to write a few poems, perhaps entertain a few people along the way, and more than that, be a mother who raised a good and decent son, then I guess that is more than enough success for this fuck up. I suppose it will have to be.