Mistakes . . . I’ve made a few

by Pari Noskin Taichert

"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

The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called "The Days of Awe" and is a time when Jewish people are commanded to think about their lives, to make amends, to atone.

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!)

13 thoughts on “Mistakes . . . I’ve made a few

  1. Jacky B.

    Pari,

    It took courage to trash your book, start anew. But, that puts you in exhalted company. The following quote is from John Steinbeck, to his publisher. It concerned a COMPLETED and SOLD work, (L’Affaire De Letuceberg) that he decided wasn’t right. Steinbeck scrapped that sucker.

    “It is a bad book and I must get rid of it . . . It is bad because it isn’t honest . . . I’ve written three books now that were dishonest because they were less than the best I could do. One you never saw because I burned it the day I finished it . . . Not once in the writing of it have I felt the curious warm pleasure that comes when work is going well . . . I had forgotten that I hadn’t learned to write books. A book must be a life that lives all of itself and this one doesn’t do that.”

    Personally, my own mistakes (learning experiences) are legion. To numerous to catalog.

    Jacky B

    Reply
  2. pari

    Aw, come on, Jacky,I’ve love to hear about one of your happier mistakes.

    Thanks for the quote from Steinbeck. It sums up the feelings I had about that first version of SOCORRO; it never lived of its own accord. I had to hook it up to all kinds of life support and finally just pulled the plug.

    Reply
  3. Louise Ure

    Before I was married, I loved to take vacations alone. Go to the airport and simply take the next plane out, no matter where it was going. The second time I did it, the plane was going to Southern California, to John Wayne airport. I wound up spending the the most romantic week down there I could have imagined. Still don’t know his name.

    Reply
  4. pari

    Hah! Louise, that’s a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it.

    One thing that occurred to me this morning was that I’ve often taken a wrong turn while driving in a new town. This has led me to some wonderful restaurants or sights I might not have discovered otherwise.

    Or, there was the guy I met on the bus going from Alb. to Miami. We spent the night in New Orleans. Though his company was mediocre, the restaurant we ate at was superb. I guess it all depends on what is important to you at the time .

    Reply
  5. Jacky B.

    OK Pari,

    Happiest mistake: My first novel. From the brutally violent first chapter, (WAY over the top!) to the last of 165,000 words,(what was I thinking, noir epic?) one big collage of mistakes. Over 75 agents passed on it.

    But, four of those agents, (two of them top people) asked for 100 pages. Gave me some invaluable advice. That, along with the personal knowledge that I could not only complete a novel, but handle the submission (and rejection) process as well, solidified my resolve.

    Second novel (80,000 words) went out. After about a dozen rejections, my agent to be (solid rep, good industry creds)gave me a call. We hit it off, and I had representation.

    I must still be making mistakes, (second book wasn’t picked up) but my WIP is about 10,000 words out from the finish line, and I’m hoping third time’s the charm.

    If ever there was a HAPPY mistake, it was sitting down to write that first novel.

    Jacky B

    Reply
  6. pari

    Jacky,Thanks for checking back.

    What got you to sit down that first time? I know that the first two manuscripts I wrote never were published; they didn’t deserve to be. But I wrote the first one out of anger. The second one because the first had been so terrible.

    I love the story about the agents, too.

    Please don’t assume you’re making mistakes with your manuscript and that’s why no one’s biting . . . the two might have nothing to do with each other.

    Reply
  7. Jacky B.

    Pari,

    Thanks for the encouraging words.

    What got me to sit down? Always a voracious reader, I had the misfortune (fortune in disguise?) to hit a string of really bad crime novels. One of them a best seller. I guess my pissed off reaction was a common one, “Damn,I can do better than this. A lot better.”

    I called my own bluff, bought a computer, learned how to use it, and the shit was on!

    And on….and on…. and on.

    Jacky B

    Reply
  8. JT Ellison

    This one is hard. I don’t know how many “mistakes” I’ve made that have had good results, but I know I’ve f-ed up a couple of times that had happy endings. Does that count?

    My disastrous freshman year of college comes to mind — if I’d done well, I would have graduated from there and gone on to business law. Instead I failed miserably, left the school, transfered closer to home, and during the time off, got into politics. Which led directly to meeting my husband.

    Fortuitous, no?

    Reply
  9. billie

    JT, you reminded me of my own disastrous first year in college – after which I went to photography school for a year, went to Paris for awhile, and finally stepped into the wild ride of “being a writer.” Took a side road to also being a therapist. 🙂

    I don’t know what would have happened had I finished my pre-vet undergrad studies and gone on to vet school. Funny how my days now are divided by time with horses and novels and clients. The path to this life I have has been totally off the map, but it’s exactly what I wanted and I’m happier than I ever expected to be.

    Reply
  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    From Louise: “Go to the airport and simply take the next plane out, no matter where it was going. The second time I did it, the plane was going to Southern California, to John Wayne airport. I wound up spending the the most romantic week down there I could have imagined. Still don’t know his name.”

    Oh, now, THERE’S my girl. I adore you. Of course have not the slightest idea what you’re talking about, but I adore you.

    I have spent so many years of my life with the wrong men. But I never married any of them – that must count for something, right? Right?

    I have also spent so many years in my life in the Hollywood trenches, for no apparent reason except a living. But then again, I have those stories I created alive in me to write for real, now. So that’s something, too.

    There is a Zen parable I would love to be able to quote right now, but will have to research. The punch line is that whenever anything happens, good or bad (from the death of the protagonist’s son to the winning of the lottery) the supporting players say, “Oh, how terrible!” or “Oh, how fortunate!” and the protagonist always replies, “Maybe. Maybe not.”

    And the Wheel of Fortune turns.

    To completely mix a spiritual/cultural metaphor.

    Reply
  11. pari

    Hey, this is a free-form conversation . . . anything and everything counts. Right?

    Maybe. Maybe not.

    Thanks for stopping by J.T., Billie and Alex. You’ve all brought up “mistakes” that I’d count as quite fortuitous.

    And, Nikol,If I have time, I’ll check out your link. Thanks for sending it.

    Reply

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