Fear Of Failing

“I’m not that tired,” I thought to myself as I nodded off, embarking on what would become a four-hour nap.

I’m currently on my spring break, but it seems as though spring break is breaking me. Every night, I’m up until 4 or 5, not because I’m doing anything (though all the movies my roommate and I are watching certainly contribute to the hour at which I turn in), but because I just can’t sleep, and I’ve been weening myself off of caffeine so it can’t be that, unless caffeine’s like heavy metals and it just builds up in your body, but I’m pretty sure the science behind my wonky logic is nonexistent.

Whatever the case, this weird sleeping cycle is taking its toll on me. I know that I’ve written about my night owl tendencies before, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I find myself shutting off my alarms every morning, only to crawl out of bed well past noon. But just because it’s not surprising doesn’t mean that it’s right, right?!

Well, today was the exception in that I got out of bed at around 9:30 a.m. and then proceeded to actually be kind of productive. Then I had a phone interview at 11 a.m., in which I spoke to my interviewer about the following totally normal interview topics:

  • my issue with the notion of a universal feminism doctrine
  • the wonkiness of the Daily Beast’s entertainment coverage
  • why Tumblr is the best blogging medium ever


And I’m afraid that I just screwed myself over? I have a tendency to treat job interviews as slightly more formal conversations, like a blind date except with employment as an end goal instead of whatever. It’s not that I was disrespectful, but instead of SELL SELL SELL-ing myself, I wandered within my interviewer’s questions. I don’t know. Phone interviews make me nervous because it’s in the natural flow of human conversation that I’m most comfortable, when I can see the other person’s eyes and I can gauge my own speaking patterns and speed and silences without there being phone static or outside noises or gapped service.

But that’s not an excuse.

It’s not that I “need” to intern or work or do anything except keep my GPA where it is. I know I’m one of those lucky people who can write that and know that it’s true. But a couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with my parents about ~*the future*~, and it left me feeling like someone stuck in a downpour with no umbrella.


In order to understand why I’m on the hunt for a paid summer gig, it’s important to understand a little bit more about the Min family.

My father’s father was a railroad engineer; his mother was a nurse. My father grew up during Red China; there was a time when instead of going to school, he threw stones at school buildings and generally acted in a hooliganish manner. During high school, between tests during China’s notoriously terrifying/nerve-wrecking 高考 exam period, he would swim laps or play music (to this day, he can still pick up and play any brass instrument), anything to get his head out of the mind-numbing work.

My mother’s parents were both math and physics professors at Peking University (which I always prefer to call 北大 because I never grew up with the term “Peking”), and not to be an ass, but that school is China’s equivalent to Harvard. To say that my mama grew up in that pressure cooker environment is an understatement. She was always first in her class, and as an only child, she was the sole bearer of all of her parents’ hopes and expectations. My grandpa always tells me that the only time he ever lied to the government was when he applied for my mom’s student visa—he made up a fake relative in America so that she could get out of China.

My grandparents’ generation was dirt poor. My parents’ generation was still pretty poor. And now it’s up to my sister and me to keep reaching upward… or that’s the expectation.

Except I’m the only person in my family who hasn’t pursued science and/or math as a way “out,” and while my parents hadn’t really made a big deal about it before, it’s not as though they aren’t aware that my adult life is going to be a lot less straightforward/monetarily sound than theirs is

and nowadays, they sure aren’t being subtle in telling me that I’m being unrealistic in chasing after what they consider a daydream.


But this is all I want to do. I don’t care if I’m writing in this style, or in the style of any of my previous/current writing employers, or whatever, but I want to take words and turn them into ridiculously long metaphors and stupid exclamations and run-on sentences. I want to tell the kinds of stories that make people cry and laugh and reflect on their own stupidities and certainties. I want to turn phrases and flip expectations and create create create in the way that writing, and only writing, has ever satisfied

and it makes me sound so selfish, so ungrateful, because I know that none of this would be possible without the sweat and blood and tears of my immigrant ancestry

and when the reality of my history crashes down upon my slouching shoulders, I can’t just shrug it off.

But on the flip side, one of my worst nightmares is that one day, I’ll become Hannah Horvath, so wrapped up in a cocoon of her own insecurities and worries that she rejects concerns both about her and beyond her. Her story, out of all the stories in “Girls” season two, is the one that scares me shitless. Every time I watched, I’d think, “Is this my future?” I’m not saying that Hannah hasn’t achieved success in her own ways, but that the ways in which she’s reached those success plateaus are… not the ways in which I want to reach my own.

Lena Dunham’s done a brilliant job leading the characters on “Girls” into self-discovery journeys that lead into narrative dead ends, only to have those characters turn around and do all those things they were supposed to stop doing. FILM CRIT HULK has a brilliant essay about just what makes “Girls” so damn good, and part of the reason the show is so polarizing is because people expect these characters to actually learn from their mistakes.

Which is funny, because how many people in real life actually get it right after fucking up once? Oh, no—the genius of “Girls” is that it mirrors just how stupid and scared people can be, and how it’s the mundane things that make up the meat of the waking day.

That said, I don’t want my life to be “Girls.” Like, du tout. I like to think that my friends and I are more grounded than Hannah & Marnie & Jessa & Shosh, but then I think about that statement some more and let out a long sigh.

Because none of us are really grounded, in the sense that we totally know where we’re going. Hell, I’m planning on graduating with dual degrees and a minor, but after that, what then? I don’t have the laser focus of some of my peers, so I hop around from field to field, picking up skills and experience along the way. I’m making a film this semester? I’m doing some of the best writing of my life? I’m reading more longform journalism this semester than I ever had before in my life?

But it all adds up to… what?


The Strokes released their new album, “Comedown Machine,” on Pitchfork a couple of days ago. I’ve been playing the entire thing on loop, but right now, the song of the moment is “80’s Comedown Machine.”

It always rankles me when people write decades as ##’s. The apostrophe usually doesn’t belong there, because it implies ownership, but in the case of this song, it might just be appropriate.

I feel like brooding, like wrapping myself up in a blanket and curling up into the side of the couch, eyes closed, breath shallowed. But I’m not tired in a physical sense, so I don’t want to try and push myself into a needless slumber.

I keep thinking about this morning’s job interview. Did I nail it? Did I totally miss the point? Is there even a point to be made? Maybe they’ve already decided who they’re going to hire, and now they’re just going through the motions of indecision.

I wish I could call up my interviewer, and tell her about my grandfather running through the fields of 安徽 in order to escape Japanese soldiers, or about when my dad came to America in order to pursue a PhD in chemistry even though it meant giving up his dreams of becoming a musician, or about the scars on my mother’s knee from when she fell off a cliff side and landed on sheets of glass.

But my relatives, the supposed blood in my blood, are not me, and I can’t rest on their laurels, no matter how hard-earned they are. I may not know what I’m doing, but it’s not like my papa knew what he was getting into when he drove from Bozeman, Montana to St. Louis, or my mama knew what would happen when she married that sheepish-looking, hotheaded older man.

My parents will have to trust me, just as their parents trusted them, and on and on it goes. That I don’t know where exactly I’m headed is my cross to bear, and though I’m doing everything in my power to pay my own way, both in the financial sense and the more abstract “life” sense, I know, just as they know, that I’m still going to need them in my life as guiding, providing guardians

but that at some point, I’m going to do things they won’t understand, and go places they can’t follow,

and I’m going to fail, in ways both enormous and minute and every measure in between,

but I won’t do anything, go anywhere, unless they let go of the tethers of the past, of their pasts, of the pasts that stretch from the present into the far beyond, what Lincoln once called “the mystic chords of memory.”


My parents are not the kind of parents to remind me of stories about my forgotten childhood, so every now and then I’ll ask them about some random thing or other.

One day, I asked my papa how I learned to swim. Without missing a beat, he said, “I threw you in the pool.”

Was I wearing floaties, a tube around my waist, anything? He shook his head.

I berated him for almost killing me, but he shrugged and said, “You learned, didn’t you?”

(Image: Daily Metaltation – March 16th by Steve Powers)


One thought on “Fear Of Failing

  1. Pingback: For The Little One | moonshine girl

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