Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Familiar Feeling of Failure

Tomorrow is Snuggle Up and Read Day at school.  The boys are so excited.  They get to dress in pajamas (not uniforms!), bring pillows and blankets, and share their favorite holiday books with their classmates and teachers.  They couldn't be more thrilled.  I thought, in honor of the day and in view of the continually dropping temperatures, it would be fun to make them each a pair of fun and fleecy pajama bottoms.  I've made pants before so I knew I could throw a couple of pairs together in just a few hours, all I needed was the fabric and some elastic.  Luckily, I had recently visited a nearby fabric district and knew exactly where I needed to go to purchase fleece and notions.  Or so I thought...

I gave myself a 3 hour window to run this errand.  I knew I was cutting it close, but I also knew exactly what I needed and where to get it so I was feeling confident.  First mistake!  Traffic was not great.  But, for a city of 24 million people, it was at least manageable.  It only took 45 minutes to get to my destination and I only had 2 almost accidents, pretty good start!  Then parking.  I found a semi-legal (or not) and almost large enough parking space and wedged myself in.  Sometimes having diplomatic plates and living in a country where traffic cops, or cops of any kind for that matter, are basically non-existent is nice.

Then it was off to select my fabric.  There was a spring in my step, a smile on my face and excitement brewing as I mentally composed my blog post about a successful venture that ended with delightfully warm pajama pants times 2.  I passed stall after stall looking for fleece.  I'd seen it the last time I visited, so I knew I'd find it.  During my quest I passed shops selling shirting and wool, corduroy and lycra, silk and broad cloth.  At last I found fleece.  A wall of samples in every color and print I could imagine -- HUZZAH!  I selected the two, okay three patterns -- I decided to make a pair for Claire, too -- I wanted and then got the owner's attention.  I asked the prices of the different prints, roughly $5 a meter, so cheap!  Then I asked for a meter of the first one.  Silence.  I asked again.  Silence.  Then perplexed silence from me -- it was like a play and I'd forgotten my lines.  Deep breath, one more time.  He cleared his throat, looked at another clerk and said, we don't have it.  Okay, no biggie, there are plenty of other great substitutes.  I asked for the next one.  Out as well.  And the next and the next and the next and the next.  ALL OUT.  ALL OUT?  All out.  My mind was reeling.  Why would they be on display if one couldn't buy them?  Why would he tell me the prices if he didn't have them?  Maybe he was lying.  Maybe he was lazy.  Maybe he just wasn't interested in helping me.  Stunned silence.  Defeated, deflated silence.  Starting to sense a less than positive outcome silence.  What do you have?  He gestured to a pile of bolts.  Navy, gray, black and some really depressing plaids.  This is all?  None of these others?  This is all.  Which do you want?

Which do I want?!?!?  None of these!  I want the cute flowers and the fun race cars and the ninjas.  I want the fruit and the baseballs and the space scene.  I want the stars and the hearts and the crazy stripes (which are harder to sew, but I'd be willing to take the extra time).  Those are the ones I want! 


I left.  No problem, I'd find other options elsewhere.  I still had plenty of time, success was still going to be mine.  I headed off this time with a slightly less springy step and a lot more skepticism.  But I was not completely forlorn.  One of the things I have learned about shopping in China is that every stall sells the same thing, so hope was still burning, just not as bright as before.  If you're at the pearl market, every vendor has what you want in every color and price point.  Want shoes?  Find your preferred pair one place and you'll find the same shoes in a hundred places.  If you desperately need that Louis Vuitton, they've all got it.  Not this time.  I walked in the bitter cold for another 45 minutes.  I found fur and satin and polyester and rayon and charmeuse and flannel and EVERYTHING else.  But, no fleece.  NO FLEECE!  I know what I want is somewhere in this massive city.  Everything is, if you know where to look.  IF.  I'll find the fleece street one of these days, but today was not that day.  Eventually, I faced the reality of my failure and gave up.  I drove an hour home in stop and go, mostly stop, traffic and selected some boring, but well-loved, pajama options from the boys' drawers for tomorrow.  And, they'll be just as happy as if I'd made them a new pair.  I'm the one who feels dejected.   

I have been an expat for 5+ years now.  And, in that time, I have gotten used to a few things that are constant, no matter where we have lived.  First, everything, EVERYTHING, takes a lot LONGER than you think it will and definitely that you want it to.  Even simple errands often turn into protracted, time-consuming events that don't always end the way you'd planned or hoped.  Second, change is constant and learning to adapt is key to your happiness.  And, finally, failure is a fact of life.  Today I was reminded of that, again.  I failed.  It was a simple task.  And I just couldn't do it.  In years past, I would have been really upset.  I would have raged and ranted.  But, I am getting used to this familiar feeling of failure.  I am getting used to keeping my expectations really low.  Some days everything goes swimmingly, even better than that, but often I run head long into my reality -- that I live a million miles away from a more convenient existence.  It's worth it, of course.  I know that.  But, even with the knowledge that we lead an exceptionally good life, sometimes under very trying circumstances, failure is still failure.


Megan said...

At least you have the desire to create such pants and the knowledge. I have neither the desire nor the skills necessary. Not a total failure for you! :)

Cassidy said...

I agree with the above comment -- the very idea of sewing something is impressive. Perseverance is a virtue that you have in spades.


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