I’m sitting quietly tonight, coming to terms with failure.

Strangely, I’m wrapping the failure as a gift. I don’t want to give this package, but not because I’m dissatisfied with the results. Though I’m rarely happy with my creations, they’re not failures.

Here, for example, are nesting dolls I made for my sons and nieces. I’m not thrilled with the final results.





They’re not what I envisioned, but these dolls are my first try at woodburning, and represent my best attempt at art for people I love, so I’ll accept imperfection.

This, on the other hand, is failure writ large.


Not just the change in pattern. Nor the size. Or the ends I haven’t yet woven.

This was supposed to be a blanket for my husband. He chose the yarn just after we got married 11 years ago. I started the blanket eagerly, happy to be engaged in formal domesticity. I was in grad school and pressed for time, but I knit on trips, at conferences, and in the rare moments Spouse and I watched movies. I knit because I wanted to make him this gift to keep him warm and cozy.

I wanted him to feel loved.

But the project got heavy and I got caught up in other things. I wanted to finish. But life intervened and I slowed down. Then I stopped. Later I wanted to finish so I could free the needles to make a blanket for our baby. But finishing a huge project so I could start another didn’t motivate me enough.

After that I just forgot.

We moved the blanket, on its needles, not even halfway done, from one house to another, four times since our wedding. Each time I found the knitting bag, I wanted to finish this gift. But each time I stumbled upon the unfinished project, I was less interested in doing the work required to make it really beautiful.

Looking back, it’s a convenient metaphor.

I had excuses for dropping the blanket priority. It’s hard to remember the pattern. It’s too heavy. The cats, the baby, the other baby. Work. My book. Housework.

And so it languished.

I was hiding holiday gifts last week and found the 1/3 finished blanket. And I thought, “now that our marriage is over, why pretend? I’m not going to finish this blanket.”

I’m not. I have enough trouble trying to be consistently civil to my parenting partner. There’s no way I’m moving “make a present for my ex” up my long list. I bought him thoughtful gifts at the store this month, because I’m good at gifts and I’m good at kindness. I’ve been his partner for 15 years.

I just never made his blanket.

The trauma, though, of saying goodbye to the blanket is that I feel like a failure.

What if the blanket symbolizes the whole problem? What if decreasing effort and changed priorities are why my marriage died?

What if I had tried harder? What if I had made him feel more loved? Would I have been the wife he needed if I were the sort of Me that finished the blanket? Would that have helped him be the husband I needed?

Probably not.
Maybe not.

I cast off this weekend. I wove the loose ends from 12 skeins of yarn today. I trimmed off the extra.


And I wrapped the pathetic, too small blanket and stuck it under the tree. Not to be a jerk. To cement for myself that I’ve stopped trying. That’s a hard thing to admit.

Maybe I stopped too early. Maybe too late. Either way, there’s a physical, heavy, warm reminder of The End under the tree tonight.

And it hurts more than I thought it would. Trying and failing doesn’t hurt like trying, giving up, and thinking later that I didn’t try enough hurts.

Because this lumpy package screams at me about lack of foresight and laziness and stupidity and selfishness.


It represents the worst of what I offered my partner: a promise of love that I didn’t fulfill.

This present says I wasted time and energy by mis-allocating resources. The problem is: I don’t know if I invested too much or not enough.

And I’ll likely never know.

22 thoughts on “Failure

  1. Woah. First, you must submit this to voices of the year for 2015. It’s that good, that rich, that real, that hard to read, in the best way that things that are beautiful and hard and true can be hard to read after so many elf on the shelf posts. Beautiful metaphor, beautiful peace. Hard time of year. And I love love love those nesting dolls. Remember: we are not the best judges of our creative output.

  2. I love the nesting dolls too. A russian friend gave me some a few years ago, I keep them with a pic of her.

    There’s a line in a Keith Urban song… take the cat, leave my sweater, we have nothin left to weather. I thought of the song the minute I saw your “failure” sweater. You tried. I see you tried. Where is the “failure” he was making for you? Good for you to drop the dead weight. That energy needs to go back into you. You got nothin left to weather with him.

    I did a crafty project for an ex. I often wonder if he threw it out. Took me months to do. It was more of a wanting him to love me project. His gift for me was a poem that I didn’t understand. I could write an entire song about that one.

  3. I often buy Christmas/birthday presents for my friends WAY before those holidays roll around because I buy things when they remind me of those people instead of waiting for an occasion to shop. Sometimes that means that by the time I should be giving those gifts, those people are no longer fixtures in my life. It’s hard to stumble across those presents and be reminded of the joy and pain of those relationships–even more challenging when it’s handmade for someone. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • I do the same, Sabina. But for me it’s really rare to have someone drop out of my life. It happened once, to excruciating pain, and I had no idea what to do with the gift. Can’t give it, can’t trash it, can’t donate it. An object full of angst…bonfire is too violent, burying is ridiculous. I believe I gave it to someone else a year later. Someone without my ridiculous attachment to symbolism. ;-)

    • I know this feeling exactly – I bought a gift for my ex-boyfriend’s birthday (in February) last December. In January we broke up. In the end I gave it to my parents because I couldn’t face it in the cupboard any more.

    • LOL! I’ll gladly accept the hug and the cocoa, but I have to stick to my own maudlin mixtape. I’m enjoying my sulk with The Milk Carton Kids and Counting Crows. ;-)

  4. It’s been 14 years since my husband began the process of moving on with his life, with a decade of repercussions that I have written about, and never even close to the depth of their impacts on my life. As for their impacts on my children’s lives, I guess I’ll never know.

    But here is what I see in this beautiful piece of writing – you, taking on the burden of a failure that is very rarely any one person’s doing, certainly in the most “usual” cases.

    It has taken me many, many years of reflection (and writing) to come to terms with the fact that my many years of feeling as if I didn’t give enough or give in the right way or I let a baby and a career and then another baby and fatigue and writing and more fatigue and food and walls I couldn’t seem to take down get in the way of what I expected of marriage, what I envisioned as marriage, the illusion of MY marriage that was, should have been, and wasn’t “our” marriage because he was less “in it” than I was, for all my taking of the blame.

    The burden of a marriage that ends in divorce must be shared. And I wish we would stop terming marriages that end in divorce as failures. From where I sit, it is an act of idealism, of courage, of mutual dreaming. Remaining civil, even when it’s difficult to do, for the sake of the model you set for your children – this too, in a very different way, is an act of courage.

    Brava to you for finishing the blanket. Brava to you for ever embarking on it. And brava for whatever words you put on paper as you process the losses as well as the gifts that come from any weaving of two families into one.

    Sending you warm wishes for 2015.

    • Oh, Wolfie.
      You’re so wise.
      I don’t think the end of my marriage is a failure. I do believe that it took more courage for us to end it than it did to begin it. Agreeing it was over was an act of hope that came out of years of struggle and giving up and depression. Giving up was, I believe, worthy of applause.
      So was starting the blanket. And so was giving up. My needles are free to make something joyful. Maybe, for once, something for me.
      It’s so good to hear from you.

  5. I just stumbled on your blog in searching for nesting dolls. I too, am attempted to paint my own set and it is tough! I have a fawn that went through 6 coats of paint before I am okay with the results. Yours are good. It is hard. I understand. Good job for doing. it.

  6. Pingback: Seven years | Naptime Writing

  7. NAPPY!!! how has so much time passed since last I gazed at your amazing words?! “The Unfinished Blanket” (not ‘Failure’) is truly amazeballs and it wouldn’t have been if you weren’t so miserable when you wrote it. That is the gift of misery, though. The gift of clear, poetic thought and sometimes even epiphanies! I will inquire separately as to your current state, hopefully not as sad, but still concise and well-written. You are great and hello!


    • Hi, dear friend. Pain is so awesome for writing. What I have enow is no pain and too much work, so no writing. I’m sure life will smack me in the face soon and I’ll be back. Miss you!

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