Recently I presented three groups of work-in-progress from 10,000 Hours at an open critique night: The Timeline, The Lace Mile Markers, and The Failure Series. Of the three, The Failure Series is currently closest to my heart. I feel there’s the most information packed into this grouping and the audience there that night seemed to agree. There was a lot of laughter as we talked about this work and one of the panelists was moved to label me as “a prankster.” While I enjoyed the laughter I internally recoiled at the label of prankster. I had to acknowledge that much of my work makes people laugh, so am I, in fact, some sort of prankster?
Thinking about this I had to examine the laughter itself. I enjoyed the laughter so much because it was an instantaneous clue that the viewers “got it.” It’s not a laughter of Schadenfreude (a sadistic sense of joy derived from the failures of others). I have yet to encounter someone who laughs with this kind of hostility when I show my 10,000 Hours related failures. If I ever did I think I’d mostly be confused. Especially since I think for the Schadenfreude to really be true I would have to feel that my failures are, well, problematic or carry some sense of shame with them. Which, of course, I don’t, because I understand that I must fail in order to journey the 10,000 Hours path.
Another theory of “why we laugh at failures” is viewing events through a “play frame.” According to Dr. William F. Fry when we view real-life events in a non-serious context we laugh. So, we laugh at people who fall without serious injury, but don’t laugh at someone who falls into real danger. My failures (at least so far) through 10,000 Hours have not caused me any danger. Obviously, I am still here. Nothing truly terrible happened to me as a result of these failures.
So, I’d argue that this is a laughter recognition. Everyone has failed at something. Many somethings. Many times. Each failure as it happens tends to feel somewhat detrimental on some level. (Hence the titles “Disaster Hat” and “The Unforgivable Edge” to two of the works in The Failure Series.) We all know what that feels like; the “oh $#!@” of realizing the time + energy just spent has gushed out and seeped into the sand. With the gift of perspective we can turn around and look at these failures, line them up, label them, learn from them, and then laugh. Of course I know that I am not really in any sort of “danger” while knitting. However, as I encounter a failure and realize that hours of work (time + energy + resources) are not going to come to fruition, it can feel pretty terrible. Especially if there’s some sort of deadline or obligation attached (a sense of success-necessity). So it is easy to understand how the failed scarf felt really important at the time but with hindsight we can see how silly that was and laugh. But I am pretty sure that I could have evidence of almost any kind of failure presented and as long as no one was truly harmed as a result of those failures, it would be funny.
I think this laughter is really very important. Lining up our failures and being able to laugh at them, because of them, through them, is key to releasing ourselves from the tyranny of success. We learn far more through failure than we do from success, and learning pushes us much closer to our goals. So no, I am not a prankster. I am not playing a trick. I am not telling a joke. I present my failures as evidence of my path, it’s absurd and it’s funny.