Post 16: An allergy to winning

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Snatching defeat

from the jaws of victory


Nothing has slowed down yet here at Lake World-be-gone, my new home. ... After a string of late-nighters, I just barely managed to be not quite ready for the art show at Norwescon in Seattle this weekend, which Shannon and I nonetheless drove down to mount on Thursday. Nothing for nurturing humility like matting those last seven prints on the floor of your art show booth in front of everyone who came ready. :] Nonetheless, it all got onto the wall, and we enjoyed a fleeting opportunity to see dozens of people we care about, and have dozens of truncated but important conversations at several enjoyable events before our hours at Norwescon were up on Thursday evening and we began the journey back to our island to resume the breathless effort to catch up with all that’s still not done here! As I finish writing this, my mother is arriving at the island’s ferry landing to come enjoy a couple days of Easter cheer with us. We will take some time off—I mean really ‘off’—for that. So hurrah for Easter! And, speaking of Easter miracles, this very morning I discovered that the Matilija Poppies we had given up for lost after this winter’s blizzards, are, after all, reemerging from the ground, each in a single, small shoot—literally invisible until today. Now THAT is what Easter looks like in our neck of the woods.

And speaking of woods...

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In regard to last week’s post...

At one point during my several hours at Norwescon on Thursday evening, I found myself standing outside the art show with a small herd of other artists I’ve known for many years, waiting for the opening reception to begin, when a fleeting but interesting thing happened. One of them—for reasons I will bypass here—asserted, at some length, that I had not aged at all during the thirty-some years we’d known each other, and asked—half-seriously, it seemed—how I was “doing that.” He is mistaken of course. Getting on in years himself, his memory of what I used to look like may have grown a bit fuzzy at the edges, his glasses were likely a tad smudged as well, and it was a very low-light situation—always my best look—not to mention how deeply the bill of my baseball cap further shaded my face. But the others quickly took up the fun and start speculating about the nature of ‘my secret’—at which point, I cut right to the chase with, “Actually, it’s all about human blood and what one can do with it.” The fellow next to me gaped, and said, “I was just about to say that!” To which I replied without pause, “I know. That’s why I said it first.”

And there it is, folks. The “preemptive humor reflex” I mentioned—again—last week, STILL on ‘auto-launch,’ all these years later, though any actual need of it is long, long passed by now. Caught my attention though, and inspired a rueful grin I’m sure the others misinterpreted.


And that’s not the only thing still on auto-launch. No-siree. Thanks to the serene pace of my peaceful island life these days, last week’s post was written largely between 10PM and 1:00 Sunday morning. Upon reading it through and discussing it over breakfast Monday morning, Shannon and I both found it a trifle longer on abstract analysis and shorter on clarifying specifics than most of my other posts have been. As I began to speculate about how I might explain my foggy state of mind, and fix my omissions in this week’s post, she stopped me, and said, “You don’t need to apologize to them, Mark.”

...Because that’s how all my musings about ‘fixing this’ had been framed, of course—as apologies. “But I do!” I told her with yet another rueful grin. “I must apologize. For everything. It’s what I was trained for. You know that.” And, when I ran into friends at Norwescon who have, it seems, been reading my blog (Lovely to see you, J & M!), I immediately apologized to both of them for last week’s post. I literally couldn’t stop myself.

...Lest any of you imagine that the things I write about here are purely ancient history, no. For better and for worse, it is good to remember that this forest we tour is not just ‘where I grew up.’ It’s the dark wood I am lost in still. :] It’s all still happening—in new, better disguised ways—today. Which has much to do with why I’ve decided to explore it—yet again—more carefully this time—with witnesses—no?  Every week, as I reflect on what I write here, I have a third eye open, hoping to catch me in the act, so that by the time I get this done, I will see exactly how I’m doing it, and exactly what all can be done to change my tale—once more.  


So...though last week’s post really should have been more focused and filled with illustrative anecdotes, please allow me to apologize for my second rate work, and—er—‘finish up’ last week’s muddled post.

The reason I find that youthful pantheon of anti-heroes I focused on last week so illuminating is not—as Shannon, at least, first assumed after reading my post—because their example assured me that all my hardships would lead ultimately to victory. Not at all. What I was trying—and perhaps failing—to get at last week was that virtually none of my youthful pantheon of anti-heroes were all that interested in ‘victory’ itself—now, later, or at all! My heroes were very much ‘the journey is the destination’ people. Their stories were more about who they were—all along—and less about what they accomplished at the story’s end. Most of them weren’t looking for adventure when it found them. Most of them became entangled in those adventures very reluctantly—if not involuntarily—and felt quite out of place there, rather than cool, fascinating, or destined for greatness. And even after they were committed to the quest, whatever it was, other things (the well-being of family or friends, concern for someone else’s plight, personal moral or ethical convictions, faithfulness to their own natures or urgent questions) continued mattering to them even more than ‘victory’ did. Half the time that’s exactly what made them ‘victorious’ in the end—the fact that they weren’t driven by need of—or even desire for—victory! The strategies employed against them—like those employed against me in school—were designed to snare someone trying to ‘win.’ The fact that my anti-heroes weren’t primarily concerned with winning—or being ‘heroes’ at all—often foiled those misapprehended strategies just as my lack of ‘victorious desire or expectation’ derailed the strategies of my own schoolyard antagonists. And perhaps most illuminating of all, none of my heroes—whether drawn from religious stories, or literary fantasies—was ever in greater danger than when tempted to believe too much in their own importance or power, or care too much about ‘winning.’

Coincidentally—as my lovely and observant wife has pointed out to me on countless occasions—nothing makes me more uncomfortable than a compliment. Just this morning—and not for the first time—she observed that I find ‘humorous’ ways to deflect every compliment I’m given (in fact, you saw me do it further up this page) and that, on the rare occasion when I am ‘winning,’ instead of pressing harder toward the finish line, I tend to cut and run—as if any promise of ‘greater things’ might bite me—or something worse—should I allow it too near.


To sum it up concisely then (because I always save concision for last): my heroes were—and, I guess, still are—weirdly ‘anti-win’ people. And I seem to have been focused—all along—more on who they were, all through the story, than on what happened at the end. I’ve tossed ‘victory’ out the door without a second thought on quite a few occasions, I guess, to protect ‘who I am’—or even just the hope of becoming more like who my heroes were. Looking back, it seems all too likely that my struggle to emulate my heroes’ character rather than their ‘victories’—and the weird allergy to even the threat of winning this seems to have engendered—may have saved me from being cast into outer darkness by the ‘winners’ at school simply by removing me from any and every game they were playing—or could imagine playing. Or, to put it another, perhaps less flattering way, people who remain ‘in the stands’ cannot, by definition, ‘lose the game’—any more than they can win it.

That was the realization I was trying to articulate last week. And in that sense, my quest to create an identity and a story other than ‘winner’ or ‘looser’ at school ‘succeeded.’ But might this anti-heroic avoidance of the hazards of winning have anything to do with how ‘a legend in the computer game art industry’ has managed to accomplish so little, professionally, after so many years—or why I am still waiting, at 62 years of age, for ‘permission’ to do ‘something meaningful’ with my talent—or why, despite the charmed life I AM living here at Lake World-be-gone, I still wake up climbing through dark foliage at night without feeling any closer to the sky?

I bet it does.

And thanks for your patience as I’ve continued to reflect on this realization again here now. Because, believe it or not, this particular insight—that I have lived all these years in emulation of a pantheon of heroes who are ‘allergic to winning’—had genuinely never occurred to me with any clarity until last week, when I sat down to write about other topics which I will return to next week. You see, I too am learning here. And maybe there really is no better way to understand yourself than by trying to explain yourself to others.


Happy spring, cyber-friends. However you celebrate such things, I wish you all the season of rebirth’s best gifts.

Mark Ferrari3 Comments