Failure. Magic. Woods in Winter.

Tuesday struck with all the fury of a Monday scorned. Too little sleep + defeat + excitement = a recipe for holding back tears in the middle of French class. Thankfully my kiddos were taking a quiz and I had the option to just sit and breathe for a few minutes.

My phone pinged with an email notification–a form rejection from an agent who requested my full manuscript a few weeks ago. I also learned I didn’t make the cut for a Twitter pitch contest I’d entered last week–BUT my amazing critique partner did, so there was much rejoicing. Between the sting of the full rejection and elation over her success, I was a jittery mess.

You all. You all. Her book is so good. It’s a middle-grade fantasy that feels like a classic but is at the same time completely fresh and so, so magically Southern that it makes my heart sing. I kind of can’t stand it that you can’t go get it and read it right now. It reminds me of all the fantasy I loved as a child–The Chronicles of NarniaThe Wizard of Oz, and lots more–without all the weird veiled or not-veiled sexism and racism. It also reminds me of recent books like Miss Peregrine and Stardust–but I love it more. It’s magical and darkly shimmering and I should probably stop gushing about a book you don’t get to read. Yet.

After all the excitement, plus the constant excitement of teaching middle schoolers, I dragged myself home in a state of exhaustion. All I wanted to do was collapse. I could feel myself slipping into one of the dark nights of the soul that tend, for me, to last a couple of weeks or more. So I made myself take the dog for a walk in below-freezing weather. We stepped outside in the moment when the evening was perfectly balanced between the pink-bleeding sun and the pale gold moon, flat and sharp as a paper circle against the twilight sky.

The woods were full of deer, the lees of rills and deadfall frosted with a skim of snow crystals. The air was so cold it burned with all the ferocity of a revelation. The butter-yellow moon swelled behind the trees, broken into stained glass by bare branches. A beautiful evening. A perilous one. The kind of evening on which anything is possible, even healing.

The winter woods patched me up, froze over the raw places long enough for them to begin to knit back together. I came into the supper-warm house in a glow of thawing skin and spirits.

I am okay.

I do a lot of thinking about failure, because I do a lot of failing. It wasn’t always this way. I used to be a golden child who starred in plays and won spelling bees and got straight As and gave papers at professional conferences as a student. I do a lot of thinking about how to teach my students to fail–how to accept failure instead of letting it shatter you, how to learn from it, how to let it break you apart and then rebuild you, cracked and flawed yet stronger than you were before. One of these days I hope to figure it out–how to convey this to them in a way that will make sense, in a way that will be useful to them, in a way that will empower them to see that it is only through failing that we truly succeed. I’ll let you know if I figure it out.

In the meantime, I leave you with some little bits and bobs of magic from my writing habitat. I could use a little magic today, and perhaps you could, too.


4 thoughts on “Failure. Magic. Woods in Winter.

  1. I’m SUPPOSED to be writing into another chapter of THE BOOK today. I even told my writing accountability person that today was wide open for writing!

    But that was on Monday and I didn’t have anything written on my calendar. Because scheduling kids’ soccer games, grocery shopping, writing emails to prospective students to register for an upcoming class, trying to come up with the just right gift for my beloved supervisor’s UN-happy hour lay-off party, and texting messages to my new business partner – well, these things were not written on my calendar, Brenna. But they have to happen.

    SO – after all of the things that weren’t on my calendar were done, I needed to get back into writing. But I couldn’t get my head in the game. And then – so happy to see that you had posted a blog. Just what I needed. Your gorgeous writing about failure, but also about healing and resilience, and gorgeous “butter-yellow moons broken into stained glass by the branches…” So beautiful.

    As I was reading your post, I was also listening to Ray LaMontagne’s song, “Shelter.” Do you know it? Here’s a link to listen.

    I’ll shelter you, if you’ll shelter me, Bee. Your post saved my bacon this afternoon. I owe you one.

    1. Oh, sweet Barb, you owe me nothing. Thank you for always reading and responding, for being so consistently thoughtful and present, and for the good work you do in the world. I hope the chaos is resolving for you, and that you find yourself with some much-needed time to breathe. Thank you so much for the song! and for being you. Your words are a comfort and a reminder that this is why I write–for the ones who need it. ❤

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