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Failure is so possible

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Fall arrives in Rochester with a flurry of colorful brochures announcing dance, music, and theater events. It's an exciting time of year for arts lovers --- authors start arriving, film festivals hit town, and art exhibitions open.

But for some, all is not well in the cultural calendar. For creative types who haven't met their goals, autumn is a brutal reminder of their miserable, failed lives.

If you're an artist who's not having an opening or a musician who isn't performing in one of the zillion concerts scheduled this fall, you might be feeling like a loser. And if, like me, you're a writer who opened her big fat trap last year and announced she's writing a book and don't have anything to show for it except five lame chapters, then the fall can downright suck.

Everywhere I turn I see success stories. My close friend, a best-selling author, read from her book at a Writers & Books event and another author friend spoke at Arts & Lectures. Classmates and acquaintances pop up everywhere, annoyingly successful, year after year. They're in Broadway productions and television series, directing movies and music videos, soloing in concerts, and selling their books to the movies. Even the nerds in my circle get to see their names on textbooks in college bookstores every fall.

Thank goodness I'm getting one break this year. It's the first time in a decade my successful actress "friend" from college is not smiling at me from the cover of People in Wegmans. There she'd be --- gorgeous, ageless, and usually appearing over headlines that read, "Cast members to receive $1 million per episode" --- while I stood in line sorting coupons.

There's something I should confess. I have carefully cultivated a life devoid of long-term goals. Something always sidetracks me. Thus, I never worked hard at any one thing for very long. So, what do I expect?

There was a minute there, in my teens, when it looked like I might have promise. First I had a regular gig on a kids' news program. Then I traveled around the country covering the presidential campaign with a few other students and a camera crew. That series never aired but no matter. I was all charged up to change the world; I headed off to college to study political science.

Once there I switched majors almost immediately. It seemed the art history department hosted weekly wine-and-cheese receptions (this was right before the legal drinking age increased). And they didn't just serve wine. I started my love affair with scotch at a college art opening. Plus, Poli Sci is hard. Free booze vs. Henry Kissinger? Easy call. I'll change the world tomorrow.

I could be wrong, but my distractibility and decadent behavior may have hurt my chances for success. One professor friend of mine took, like, a century to write her thesis. Imagine spending so much time on one topic. Bo-ring. And my husband studied medicine for a decade. Not only did he miss the '90s --- no big loss when you think about it --- he had to hang around with sick people all the time. Depressing.

I asked my good friend how she finished her last book in under a year. She said she sat and wrote for five straight hours a day. My ass is spreading, she said. By contrast, when I write my ass has no chance to spread. After a few minutes of panicking at the keyboard, I go on treasure hunts around the house looking for chocolate. When I return to my desk I Google old friends and then run outside to watch the clouds skittering by overhead. Later, I duck in to check my email.

Even when opportunity knocks I barely answer the door. A couple of years ago, for example, a local TV news station asked me to apply for a reporter job. I just dropped off my demo tape and didn't follow up.

Here's my rationale: it's so much easier and safer to be a failure if you don't ever even try. I can delude myself into thinking that sure, I'd be a huge success if I sat glued to my chair for five hours daily or if I'd pushed for an interview with the TV news director. But this way I get to wallow in my loserliness and maintain my delusions of grandeur. Win-win.

Okay, so I haven't finished the book. At least I've got it started. Will I ever finish it? If so, will anyone read it? In the silence created by my lack of accomplishment, I yearn to make my barbaric yawp. Something, anything to rescue me from a lifetime of obscurity.

This would be a good time for that arty soft porn student film I was in in college to start circulating on the Internet. As if anyone would care. At the time, I regretted the nude scenes (when the scotch wore off), but now I'll take whatever attention I can get. I could try to arrange a celebrity marriage for myself but my husband, as supportive as he is, might object.

Of course I'm confusing fame with achievement, a common mistake. Achievement takes hard work and dedication. Fame can come to any goofball willing to swallow worms on TV.

At least I have talented friends, and that's something. They invite me to their concerts and movie premieres and almost never borrow money. I should just relax and be inspired.

Plus it's fun watching accomplished people do what they do well. I make a better fan than author. I think I'll buy some Garth Fagan tickets and take the kids to the new children's theatre, Tykes. This fall's goal can be to support others in their artistic endeavors. Maybe at a book signing I'll get motivated to finish my book. Better still, they might serve a nice single malt at the reception.

In This Guide...

    Seeking the artful bounty

    Members of the Rochester Association of Art Dealers already inaugurated the new season; they strutted their stuff during Galleries Week, which started the second weekend of September. Most of their exhibits will remain up for several weeks, giving you plenty to see.

    Putting on a good show

    It is, in my opinion, the best moment in the world: after the lights go down and before the show starts. Voices hush, bodies settle, and you wait.

    Searching for the Holy Grail (of fruit)

    The fall harvest season is one of my favorites, with cool nights and an almost endless variety of fruits and vegetables to sample, some more well-known than others. Lately, I have fallen in love with the heirloom tomato "Brandywine" --- which is not very red, is impossible to slice for the perfect sandwich, and has a thin skin unsuitable for shipping.

    Only the movies you want to see

    As I was thinking about how to structure this piece on the films of autumn, I became hung up on the notion of film criticism versus movie reviewing. Film criticism is an art that seems to require a thorough steeping in film history, astute reasoning, an extremely keen eye, and the ability to concisely convey your thoughts using clever word-type thingies.

    Lack not music’s pleasures

    It may be years, decades, centuries, before the Olympics come to Rochester. While you're waiting, enjoy the abundant classical music Rochester offers every year, all year round.

    Hear your live delights

    I figure since we got screwed out of summer we deserve a cool fall. And I'm not talking about the mercury either.

    Hitting the lecture circuit

    OK, all you nerds out there, it's time to get down to work. Stock your pencil boxes, pull out your literary anthologies, and check the batteries in your tape recorders: fall is bursting with enough lectures and literary events to make us all feel like we're back in school again.

    City’s choice: family theater

    Theater is not just for grownups. Besides the magical tradition of The Nutcracker, during the fall there are other performances around town for the family to enjoy.

    Fall Guide 2004

    Fall with grace It leads us into the grip of colder, darker winter, but fall is a gentle warden.

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