Fail Better is about a woman who is so afraid to fail that she makes her decisions impossible in the effort of trying to control her world.
One of the driving motivators for me to create the series, Fail Better, is to expose the sexism and racial prejudice that run rife in the process of articling: from hiring - to how students are treated - to hire back. For Tegan, she tries to control her world by going to the law, where she thought she'd escape the misogyny and racism all over the acting profession. No dice. It's all there, wherever she goes. Tegan has to learn, gradually, that failure is inevitable - and it's not a bad thing, if she's growing through it.
Here are some perspectives that I resonate with, about articling & living.
The most on point writing I've read about the fear that pervades law school and dominates articling students is "The mental health crisis in law" by Daniel Fish in the Spring 2018 issue of Precedent. In the opening section, aptly named "Fear," Malini Vijaykumar shares her experience of failing to land an articling job right away.
“My body shut down,” she says. “I could barely get out of bed for two weeks." ...
“The same thoughts kept running through my head: You’re worthless.”
That is the kind of deep fear we're talking about, and Tegan feels it to her core.
"Black on Bay St.", written by Hadiya Roderique, is about sexism and racism in the legal profession in Toronto. She is a black woman who was a lawyer and left the profession to research racism and sexism in hiring and promotion practices. Here's an interview she did on CBC, On the Money, and her video about the ways that hiring, firm culture and promoting practices favour white men. In the narrative of Fail Better, we can go further - into the challenge for a woman of colour - to conform or stand out, to fight or let things slide, to swallow inappropriate attention or to push back.
I didn't know if this story was relatable, to anyone who hadn't experienced articling, until the first public reading at Working the Scene in Colour. It was there that people laughed at recognizable experiences - the way they're spoken to as women in patriarchal professions, or the way they're sized up as people of colour. What put the fire under me to gather the team to tell this story was what people shared about their deep connection to Tegan's struggle - to keep all the plates spinning. Because it's not just about one articling student; it's about everyone who finds a way to generate stability, while they go after the ambitions driven from their guts.
The works of Brené Brown, on shame and vulnerability, are another source of inspiration. I've walked a long road with her, and I shared the top layer of the journey in an article called, "A Pointless Mess". I wrote it about fear of failure and shame over shortcomings, to reveal the feeling that sucks so many of us under. After the publication of this piece, strangers reached out to thank me and to tell me how they relate. That is part of what drove me to tell this story. The frame - an articling student who wants to keep on being an artist, too - is from my life. On the other hand, the rest of Fail Better is fiction - the storylines, key relationships, and other characters.
I created Fail Better and put it out in the world because this is the frame I have to expose these practices that have to stop. It feels narcissistic, to base a series on a year of my life, shared with my co-writer, Livia. That's what made it hard for me to talk about this series for its first 2 years of living in my mind. What I learned is:
from the specific comes the universal.
If I've gone through it, then others have, too. It's time to put it out in the light.
Lastly, I'm inspired by the words of Samuel Beckett in "Westward Ho":
Ever tried. ever failed. no matter. try again. fail again. fail better...
I'll try again, I'll fail again. I'll fail better than I did before.
I first stumbled across them years ago in the long process of writing my first play. A mentor was kind enough to send me this article: "The Importance of Being a Failure: Why playwrights must suffer rejection." And much as I resist it, I'm working on leaning into the fail. There's no way to make art (at least not that I know) through any other path.
Thank you for investing your time and yourself to follow this story. Please follow us on this journey, and share your thoughts & experiences with the things that drive us to Fail Better.