Ten of swords card: a figure lies on the ground, covered by a red cloth, bleeding from the ten swords plunged into their body
Ten of Swords tarot card, designed by Pamela Colman Smith, a vivid representation of how I feel

I have been thinking a lot about failure recently because life seems full of it. I have had a disastrous start to the calendar year, bowing out of a couple things I quite wanted to do and losing all the work from three projects I was hoping to finish for February 1st. I didn’t realise how aggressively Microsoft overrides all back-up functions on the latest version of Office. I have used Dropbox trouble-free for years now, not only for constant back-up of WIPs but also for working on different devices in difference place — even different countries — with seamless simplicity.

Word autosaves to your Microsoft OneDrive — or nowhere. So on the brand new MacBook Air I bought because after 8 years of constant use the old one was getting a little glitchy with some things, MS overrode my extensive back-up plans to nothing but ether. When I shut down the new Mac — ironically because I was scolding myself ‘don’t keep the computer going for so long without a restart!’ — everything I was working on evaporated. Poof. Gone.

You don’t have to go to Kübler-Ross to explain how it felt. Disbelief, despair, anger, more despair — and deep mortification that I would have to tell the editors of these projects that I would have nothing for them. All those weeks of work, just gone. Awful. But the embarrassment! Failing is one thing; publicly failing is another. I had to find their emails, too, because the one thing I couldn’t get off the old computer was my downloaded email because Outlook crashed backing up the archive. All those years of emails: gone.

Whining about it on social media gave me some relief momentarily, though it also gave me a lot of self-righteous people tutting that they never trust the cloud! (Then why do you put so much on Farcebook?) Or why didn’t I just use a thumb drive (I do; but the new Macs are all USB-C and all my peripherals are USB-A and I must have an adapter here somewhere…). At least my mortification was ameliorated somewhat by irritation with people who have never used more than one computer in more than one place and traveled frequently.

But also I know it is my fault: my usual problem of taking on too much. How many years have I been trying to keep Happy No Year going? Too many. With eldercare on top of all the required pivots of COVID-teaching and an institution that has had its back broken twice by neoliberal gutting of all it was, and missing my family so much it is a constant ache, I have finally (perhaps belatedly) pushed past my capabilities into complete crashing failure.

It’s been awful. I’m trying to think of it as a controlled burn. I am trying to shed my overachieving ways, a defence mechanism that has probably been part of a lifelong attempt to deal with ‘the weirdness of me’ which after a lot of research (originally started to understand some of the students I was working with) I’m concluding may well be autism. All I know is that the actually autistic accounts I’m following on social media have been really helpful in recognising the jerry-built workarounds that I’ve accumulated, and at least sometimes, finding ways to replace them with more healthy habits.

So, I’m giving up a lot of things. Some of them I didn’t realise I was still hanging onto, some just illusions I wanted for reasons that are hard to locate. And some that really hurt. But after the initial shock and upset, I’m finding there are other things that I would rather be doing. And I have started doing some of them. And changing other things that I had invested in, but now see are not where I am going and might be just the thing someone else is looking for to make their own changes.

For writing and academia in general, there’s been a lot of chasing prestige. I know, it certainly never looked that way given the way things have panned out for me. I aim for things and then miss the mark because I am incapable of doing things in the expected way. I am just going to own my weirdness now. You may choose to see this as diminishing and going into the West. Whatever. I’m not bothered. I have some wild ideas I want to pursue now. And the more I think about them, the more I recover a sense of excitement and purpose.

I want to be more Leonora (in her recovery, her freedom, not her breakdown).

It’s not a phoenix rising from the ashes. Maybe more of a moseying. Maybe some of it is still on fire. Perhaps it’s even an ungainly scrambling out of the ashes. It may take some time to dust off. We’ll see. But the alternative is giving up and I’m not ready for that.

A medieval phoenix rises from the ashes framed by a gold leaf background
A Phoenix (detail) in a bestiary, about 1270, unknown illuminator, possibly made in Thérouanne, France. Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment, 7 1/2 × 5 5/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig XV 3, fol. 74v. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

(…and I didn’t even mention my first 9-1-1 call but that’s a story for another day)