"Mistakes are at the very base of human thought, embedded there, feeding the structure like root nodules. If we were not provided with the knack of being wrong, we could never get anything useful done . . . We are built to make mistakes, coded for error." Lewis Thomas from The Medusa and the Snail
I’m not very observant in my religious practice, but I do like the idea of awe and of reflection, peaceful introspection that results in action — in trying to put things right in one’s life.
But this year, for some reason, my pensive time has focused on Lewis Thomas’ quote and the mistakes I’ve made that have resulted in great felicities.
No one advocates taking the wrong path, scraping a knee, or banging an ego against prickly lessons. However, there are times when a decision that seems incredibly knuckleheaded in the moment actually opens a door to wonderful possibility.
These instances crowd my life. (I won’t even talk about all my past boyfriends; those mistakes are too obvious . . . but the end result was a late marriage to the right man for me. )
There was the time in Ann Arbor when I saw a bunch of people walking into a building and decided to follow. I stumbled into a master class on pantomime taught by Marcel Marceau. Yeah, it was a mistake (I should have gone to work and almost lost my job).
But I stayed . . .
Even more incredible, he let me (though there were only fifteen people or so in the class). I spent two of the most fascinating hours of my life in his company.
That was the summer of marvelous mistakes.
Another time, I ended up in an invitation-only (don’t ask how I got in; I still have no idea) press conference Noam Chomsky gave prior to his public presentation at the U of Michigan.
A writing example? Oh, there are so many . . .
When I was working on The Clovis Incident, I based it on a remembered article from the local paper that had been printed years before. Half way through the manuscript, I decided to hunt down that original piece and, after much searching, realized it was about Aztec, NM. Clovis is in the SE part of the state. Aztec is in the NW. Still, that book couldn’t have been written about Aztec and have been nearly as much fun.
Oh, and what about my new book, The Socorro Blast, that’s due out this coming January? I wrote the entire first manuscript and thought it was so bad, I threw it away. Yep. I’d call that a mega-mistake. Three hundred and seventy pages gone. Kaput. So, I wrote it all over again. I believe that first mistake has made the second iteration far stronger.
Bone-headed career decisions? Oh boy, let me tell you . . .
My first agent was unscrupulous (really). My second one was mediocre. By the time I searched for the third, I’d learned from those mistakes and got a winner.
Some might posit that writing the Sasha series in the first place, setting a series in New Mexico and insisting on it staying there, is a mistake. But, I’d counter that my experience with the University of New Mexico Press and all it has taught me about the business, distribution, bookseller/reviewer strengths and biases — everything — will serve me well for the long haul.
The examples just keep piling up. My life has been filled with wrong turns, ruts in the road, and missed goals.
Thank goodness for most of them.
How about you? What are some of your happiest mistakes?
BTW: L’Shanah Tova (Happy New Year!)