let’s talk about failure

Tomorrow night I am performing in the student showcase at my aerial studio. I’ve been doing trapeze for two years but this will be my first time doing trapeze in front of an audience. To say I am nervous would be an understatement.

PEOPLE. Will be WATCHING ME. LOTS OF PEOPLE. Well, they’ll be watching me and five other aerialists, because I’m in a group act, thank god. But I’m still terrified.

I haven’t failed the performance (yet?) because it hasn’t happened, but I still want to talk about failure. I’ve had to take three things out of my routine because I can’t do them properly.

Three things seems like a lot to me. I was okay when we took out my fireman’s down/twirl to sit because I couldn’t do it without crashing down onto the bar and making the ropes twist the wrong way. I was okay when we took out my seahorse/gazelle roll (I can do that one but not 100% reliably) and replaced it with scissor roll. My scissor roll is passable, right? I should be able to polish it up by showcase, right?

Mmm, nope.

People who do athletic/physical stuff rarely talk about their failures. They show pictures and videos of themselves doing the thing and doing it really well, and all their friends say YAY, LOOK AT YOU GO, YOU’RE THE BEST! I’m guilty of this. Yesterday I posted this video to Instagram:

That’s me doing the scissor roll and doing it fine. But I cut off the part of the video where I can’t get myself out of the scissor roll without facing the wrong way or coming off the bar altogether. I know exactly what I need to do to make it work (slow the whole thing down, straighten right leg and make it go up and over the bar, lower hips, etc), but I can’t get my body to do it.

I’m not super used to failing. Given enough time and practice and ingenuity I feel like I can accomplish any task or master any skill I want. I’m pretty good at a lot of things, and it doesn’t take me that long to figure out new concepts.

Trapeze is different.

I’ve never been much for physical activity before. Outside of a few ill-advised forays into softball, basketball, gymnastics, etc as a kid, none of the skills I’ve mastered in my life have had anything to do with physical strength or agility. This thing where my stupid meatsack body won’t do what I want it to do because it’s not strong enough or flexible enough is new for me, and I don’t like it.

Tuesday night I went to the studio and practiced my scissor roll a lot of times, but I couldn’t master the exit. Last night I went to the studio and practiced my scissor roll a lot of times, but I still couldn’t master the exit. I’d wrapped up my left leg in fleece and an ace bandage to protect it from the ropes, but by the end of the evening, my leg was screaming in pain and I had to stop practicing and go home. Here’s what my leg looks like this morning:

inside left leg

outside left leg

(good thing I stopped internet dating; I’d never be able to wear a skirt on a date looking like this)

So I made the sad decision to take scissor roll out of my routine. I can’t get it right if I don’t practice it more, I can’t practice it any more without my leg falling off, and if I don’t feel confident about something in my routine, it’s just going to make me more nervous to perform.

I feel terrible about it. I feel angry at my body and its limitations. I feel like cutting THREE things out of my routine means I’m not good enough at trapeze to be performing in the first place. I feel like my part in the act will be boring and not impressive enough. I feel like I’ve let the other people in my group down. That last part makes no sense at all, because the other people in my group are doing their own routines on their own apparatuses at the same time, and who the hell cares what I’m doing 10 feet from them? They’re also all lovely people who have probably been through this exact thing before and understand how I feel.

We don’t talk about our failures much, do we? But any skill that’s worth mastering is, at its core, a million little failures all balled up together and compressed until they’ve formed something solid. And maybe I’d feel better about my failures if other people talked about theirs.

Here, I’ll go first: Trapeze is fucking hard and I fail at it on the regular and sometimes it makes me cry. HERE IS A VIDEO OF ME FALLING RIGHT THE HELL OUT OF SCISSOR ROLL:

Picture me doing this 40 more times or until my leg snaps off and you’ve got an idea of what it’s like to learn new things in aerials.

Anyway, wish me luck! If I don’t fall off I’ll call it a win.