Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Friday, February 21, 2014

Tip O'Day #450 - Embrace Failure

Guest blogger M.L. Hamilton wonders whether the Olympics should give a medal for last place.

Recently, I applied for an academy to study Shakespeare in London. I made it through the first round and was asked to come in for an interview. I didn’t feel nervous as I walked into the interview and met the four people who were conducting it. They explained what the requirements were and told me they would be asking me four interview questions.

That’s where everything went south.

The first question threw me. I blanked and once I blanked, the rest of the interview went rapidly downhill like a luge run. Mostly what I remember is babbling. I’m one of those people who babbles when I get rattled as if I think that the more I talk the more I might work myself into something that makes sense. At that moment, I had an out-of-body experience, where I could see myself sitting at the head of the table, talking like a madwoman, wondering why I just didn’t shut up. Oh, for the love of humanity, just shut up.

I remember I said Hamlet a lot.

Now don’t get me wrong. Hamlet is my favorite Shakespearean play, but the way I went on about him, you’d think I wanted to marry the guy.

So, what was the question that rattled me so?

The first interviewer asked me how teaching Shakespeare related to my students’ acquisition of the Common Core. For those of you not in academia, the Common Core is the national standards for each subject area in American public school classrooms. Why did this throw me? After all, I’ve been told that I need to embrace the Common Core, that I need to know it, inside and out, and I think I have a pretty good handle on it. It isn’t that different from what we’ve had as standards for years. What I couldn’t articulate at the time was the idea that I had to justify teaching Shakespeare. That a number and a purpose statement were required to expose my students to one of the most enduring poets of any age.

It wasn’t until I was home, watching television, that I had a moment of clarity. The new iPad Air commercial came on with Robin Williams reading lines from the Dead Poet Society. These lines in particular struck me: “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

If I had been quicker, if I had been more centered, I would have articulated this. I would have articulated that we study Shakespeare not because he trips some arbitrary construct politicians and academics created in an office space somewhere. We study Shakespeare because he shows us a mirror to ourselves, he shows us universal truths about humanity that transcend time and culture. We study Shakespeare because he is art.

But I said none of this. I stumbled ungracefully through the interview and left feeling defeated.

So, what’s the take away? As humans, we laud our successes and we should. Success should be commended, it should be celebrated. But perhaps it is our failures that are more important. Our failures give us a chance to reflect, to have clarity, to truly learn who we are as people.

Like art and music and poetry, failure is what makes us human.

M.L. Hamilton has taught high school English and Journalism for over 20 years, and saw her first novel, Emerald, published in 2010. She’s been a busy lady since then, with three more books in the World of Samar series, and about a half-dozen Peyton Brooks’ mysteries. The latest is Murder on Treasure Island, and the Amazon Kindle link is here.

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