Good morning, y’all. It’s a very rainy Tuesday here in Wiesbaden (ETA: the sun is now out). I was remarking to Bill this morning that this weather seems more like what we usually get in September, as autumn approaches. In Germany, summer has a tendency to end abruptly. One day, it’ll be hot, then there will be some rain and all of a sudden, you need a jacket to go outside. On the other hand, in recent years, the weather has been such that jackets aren’t always necessary even in the “ber” months…
This morning, I was looking at my Facebook memories and noticed a couple of photos from August 1 of prior years that show our backyard(s). They’re usually brown and parched on August 1. Not this year, though. This year, the grass is very green and my “bee bomb” wildflowers are flourishing. My rain barrel is now overflowing, because we’ve had rain consistently for the past week or so. For the most part, I’m glad. It keeps the temperatures from getting too oppressive and prevents the creek from getting too low.
Last night, I learned the Paul Reubens, aka “Pee-wee Herman”, passed away after six years of fighting cancer. I wasn’t a huge fan of Pee-wee Herman’s work, but I do remember his hilarious 1981 HBO special, which was definitely not made for kids… and his “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” Saturday morning show, that definitely was made for kids. I remember that Pee-wee Herman was very much a staple of 80s humor. He appeared in movies, commercials, and PSAs.
This morning, Bill was reading about Pee-wee’s career, and he said that Paul Reubens had tried out to be on Saturday Night Live. He was rejected. He also auditioned for several big name colleges, hoping to study his craft at places like Julliard and Carnegie Mellon University. Again, he was turned down, and he ended up attending California Institute of the Arts and Boston University. Then, one day, he got his big break, and became world famous.
A lot of people seem to be genuinely sad that he passed away at age 70, in spite of his infamous run in with Sarasota, Florida police at an adult movie theater back in 1991. He was caught masturbating, along with several others. The incident led to him becoming the butt of many jokes and temporarily derailed his career. But, that incident blew over, and he was eventually back in many people’s good graces.
As I was listening to Bill talk about Pee-wee’s life, it occurred to me that in his case, failing was a good thing. What would have happened if Pee-wee had gotten on Saturday Night Live as a regular cast member? Would he have ever had his own show? Would he have been in movies? The man was clearly a pop culture phenomenon. If he’d been part of the SNL ensemble, I don’t think he would have achieved all he did in his life.
Failing is part of trying, and many of the most awesome successes come after a person tries and fails and takes another approach. Yesterday, I mentioned Taylor Swift in my blog post. When she was still a young girl, she knew she wanted to be a star. Her family moved to the Nashville area and she started submitting demos to record labels. They all turned her down, because she was like all of the other girls trying to be stars. Taylor was undaunted, and she realized at the tender age of twelve or thirteen that if she wanted to make it, she needed to stand out and be original. So she started doing things differently. She came up with her own style, and wrote songs that struck a chord with the masses. Now, her show is the hottest ticket in town.
Even Madonna failed before she hit it big. Back in the early 80s, before she became a cultural icon, Madonna tried out for the role of Doris Schwartz on the TV show, Fame. She didn’t get the part. It went to Valerie Landsburg, who was much more appropriate for the role of a cute, motherly, Jewish girl who could sing. I don’t know what possessed Madonna to try out for the role of Doris. Maybe it’s because back in the 80s, she bore a passing resemblance to Maureen Teefy, the actress who played the role of Doris Finsecker in the 1980 film version of Fame. Anyway, she clearly wasn’t the type the casting agents were looking for when they were casting that show. Thank God she didn’t get the part. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I loved the Fame TV show, cheesy as it was. But Madonna wasn’t meant to be on that show. She was meant to be the Queen of Pop!
But she sure gave her audition a good try…
Even my own destiny was altered by failure. When I decided to go to graduate school, I applied to two programs and was accepted by both. I had wanted to be a Peace Corps Fellow, because I was worried about how I would pay for my education. Well… as things turned out, I didn’t get my wish. There was a big misunderstanding regarding the program at Western Illinois University, where I would have spent 2.5 years earning one Master of Science degree. The powers that were there determined my career goals weren’t a good fit for the Fellows program, even though I got into the degree program itself.
At the University of South Carolina, where I ended up going to school, the Peace Corps Fellows program I had applied for was defunded and changed drastically. Honestly, I can’t even really explain what happened, except to say that the whole thing was completely screwed up and backwards. I ended up having to do my dual master’s degree program out of the usual order. I then had to be accepted by the graduate school to be accepted to the MSW program, even though I was already in the MPH program, and had obviously already been accepted by the graduate school for that more challenging and competitive program.
In the end, it was actually a blessing that I wasn’t a Peace Corps Fellow, because that program would have required me to stay in South Carolina for four years after graduation and work for the state. It would have meant I probably couldn’t have married Bill in 2002… or it would have required us to live apart for awhile. Everything worked out, anyway. My education is now completely paid for, too, even if I don’t really use it in the way I had intended.
Bill and I were talking about this “failure phenomenon” over breakfast, and he said that when he was a captain, overseeing new recruits, there were some people that kind of wanted to push them through and avoid having them experience failure. Bill said that was the wrong approach, since training is where people are supposed to fail. That’s how they learn.
I can remember being a student and feeling shame and dread whenever I got an F on my schoolwork. By the time Fs were a more common experience for me, my parents had pretty much stopped caring about my grades, anyway. But I still felt ashamed. Wouldn’t it have been better if I’d had a caring mentor in my life who told me that as long as I tried, and had done my best, there was no shame in a failing grade. It was just a sign that I needed help with understanding the material, and not a personal failing or sign of poor character. Imagine how much mental distress and suicide could be avoided if we simply allowed people the freedom to fail, and reminded them that many very famous and successful people have failed repeatedly. But they kept trying, and eventually went on to succeed, and we lesser known beings can do the same.
Life is meant to be lived. Experience is a good thing, even if it involves failure. We can learn a lot from people who haven’t made it (yet)… or have failed and eventually gone on to achieve. I’m glad Pee-wee Herman didn’t get a spot on SNL. I’m happy for Taylor Swift that she had the wisdom to try a new approach and make another attempt. And I’m so relieved that Madonna wasn’t cast as Doris Schwartz!
Anyway… I hope Paul Reubens is at peace, now that he no longer has to worry about fighting cancer. He was a role model to so many people… like this guy.