Reframing failure

September 19th, 2013

I ran across a tale. I’m not certain it’s true. It has to do with Thomas Edison and it goes like this:

Edison failed two thousand times before he finally hit on the correct formula for building the electric light bulb. When a news reporter asked him about how it felt to fail a spectacular two thousand of times, Edison reportedly looked at the man and said, “Failure? I never failed, not once. It simply took two thousand steps to get the light bulb shining.”

True or not, I love this. It reminds me of that wonderful moment in the Stephen Sondheim musical “Sunday in the Park with George”, based on the life of Georges Seurat, where Mandy Patinkin sings the brilliant song about the about hat: “There’s a part of you always standing by, mapping out the sky…finishing a hat…starting on a hat…look, I made a hat…where there never was a hat.”

That’s what we do, those of us who go deep into this crumbly earth of our imagination, pulling out stray bits of twigs and broken pottery and abandoned doll’s eyes…we’re crafting the perfect hat…the luminous light bulb…the new thing built out of nothing but grit and time and stray parts.

There’s a community of us—we creators. And the more we encourage ourselves to reframe failure and setbacks and stuttering starts as merely steps in the process, the more we give ourselves over to the rapture of working on the hat—even though work is slow and meticulous and so often seems to involve ripping out threads from a previous day that aren’t quite sparkly or nubby or texturally interesting enough— the more we give ourselves over to the steps of creation, the truer we are to our calling, ourselves, and to that insistent, small, niggling voice inside that reminds us that getting the light to shine properly involves trying everything we know, going down every path, experimenting with every filament and conductor and so that next time we’ll try a new path…and another…and another…until eventually, in a flash of ecstatic brilliance, we’re turning on a light…where there never was a light.

Fail brilliantly, my friends.

Pocket Gold

September 1st, 2013

Pocket Gold
August 1, 2010
I am writing a play and it woke me up at 2:30 in the morning, calling to me.
There’s a time in my work very near the end of every project when I hit this place where I know the draft I’m working on is at most a couple of weeks away from being done.
That’s the moment when everything sings.
And those few golden days are what I spend a year or more building toward: doing the slow, careful work of figuring out the throughline, writing “bits” that connect or die, taking great care getting to know my characters and their world.
This morning was one of a series of blessed days. I wrote last time about my beginning a quest this year to live more deeply in a state of grace. And I think for me, a simple thing I’ve discovered, is that the more I commit to doing work that connects to my spirit the easier that joy is to access.
Now I know that in today’s world, it’s easy for us all to feel scared and worried and upset a lot of the time, and really grateful when we have a job to call our own. I know that for some of us, this means taking work we don’t want or don’t feel connected to, or work that makes us feel heavy in our spirit. (This is not me, right now, by the way: I’ve been commissioned to write this play by a director I’ve worked with before and who’s work I love.) But I’ve been there. I think we all have. And there’s never a guarantee I won’t be there again.
I’m talking about legal jobs that make us feel heaviness in our spirit, by the way, not illegal ones. If you’re doing something illegal—run my friend, run, run as fast as you can the other way—there’s always work somewhere that’s honest. The distilled wisdom of my Alaskan pioneer grandparents. You’re welcome. What I’m talking about is crafting our own work—all our work—to give it more meaning. For us.
If you have a less than perfect job, how great that you have one. If you are giving up a dream of yours—as a business associate of mine is right at this moment to provide better for his young family—how blessed to be a parent who’s making sound choices for the good of the family. If you have no time right now to do deep creative work because of the press of troubles crowding in on all own sides–breathe. You’re still here. And if you’re out there looking for work—God bless you, and stay strong and keep looking. Every no, as brilliant Shelly Mecum says (author of the nonfiction book God’s Photo Album), brings you one step closer to a yes.
Shape days. Moments. Time. And mostly, attitude. That’s the gold in our pockets we carry around, every day. Whatever it is, facing you today, I wish you strength to do the work you’ve been given to do. With gladness. And singleness of heart.
The rest will sort itself out.

Separation Rapid

March 21st, 2012

Great news! My play, Separation Rapid, will be produced this summer in Greene, New York, at the Chenango River Theatre, July 13-August 5. I’ll be on board for audience talkbacks during the first couple of days of the run. For ticket information contact: Chenango River Theatre
(The greater Binghamton area’s only Equity, professional non-profit theatre company.) Box Office: 607 656-8499 (TIXX)

The Real Me on Facebook

May 27th, 2011


Susan Arnout Smith is a writer who discovered the dark side of social media. One day, she stumbled onto an obscene Facebook profile with her name, pictures, even links to her legitimate work. It took her months to find the culprits and take down the page. It was a journey that took her to the edge of revenge, and, finally, forgiveness.

Listen Here

The Timer Game On Kindle

May 9th, 2011

The Timer Game and Out at Night on Kindle and Nook


The Timer Game is now in Kindle, priced at $2.99! If you haven’t checked out Grace’s world yet, you might want to see the webisodes created for The Timer Game at The webisodes end in a cliffhanger that’s paid off in the book. And now..tah dah! The…book! is Kindlized, at a very reasonable price. Pass the champagne, the chips and the word!