Fear of Failure and of Ageing

I get the sneaking suspicion I’m failing but I’m not sure quite at what exactly. Somewhere along the line I woke up and realised I was 34 (to be fair, I thought I was 33 until I did the maths). I’m not in my 20s any more. At this age I, if society, the media, the world is to be believed, should not be making mistakes. I should be getting married and having babies and being responsible and buying a proper car and shit.

But I’m not. On a good day I get mistaken for a 28-year-old (hurrah for dim lighting!). I find it hard to reconcile my 34-year-old self with what I have always thought being 34-years-old meant. Excuse me for being a dick but 34 means old to me. Old enough to know better. Being responsible. It means being eight years older than my mother was when she had me.

I don’t feel 34. I don’t want to be 34. I haven’t found my purpose in life and time is marching away like a motherfucker. Saying I’m 34 feels like a lie. I have no idea where the last 10 years went. I feel like Rip Van-sodding Winkle.

What have I done in the last 10 years? I’ve had jobs, I’ve worked, I’ve bought some flats, I’ve fallen in and out of love. I’ve done nothing of consequence, really, but I’m just now, finally, hitting my stride. Being 34 is actually the worst thing in my life, because it makes no sense. I don’t feel 34, I don’t act 34, it sounds like a horrible awful number. I see people on the telly who are 34 and I think “shit, you look old”.

I do not want to age any more. I want more time. I wish I hadn’t wasted all those years hating myself, hating my body, crippled with anxiety and fear. Because now, finally, I mostly don’t give a shit and I wish I’d lived more of my life like that.

And in situations such as these, one must turn to TS Eliot and The Lovesong of Alfred J Prufrock – one of the best poems ever written, ever.

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question…

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.


In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.


The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes

Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,

Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,

Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,

Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,

And seeing that it was a soft October night,

Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.


And indeed there will be time

For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,

Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create,

And time for all the works and days of hands

That lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred visions and revisions,

Before the taking of a toast and tea.


In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.


And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to turn back and descend the stair,

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—

[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]

My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,

My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—

[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]

Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.


For I have known them all already, known them all—

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

So how should I presume?


And I have known the eyes already, known them all—

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin

To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

And how should I presume?


And I have known the arms already, known them all—

Arms that are braceleted and white and bare

[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]

Is it perfume from a dress

That makes me so digress?

Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

And should I then presume?

And how should I begin?


. . . . .


Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes

Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …


I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.


. . . . .


And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!

Smoothed by long fingers,

Asleep… tired… or it malingers,

Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,

Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,

Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,

I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.


And would it have been worth it, after all,

After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,

Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,

Would it have been worth while,

To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

To have squeezed the universe into a ball

To roll it toward some overwhelming question,

To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—

If one, settling a pillow by her head,

Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.

That is not it, at all.”


And would it have been worth it, after all,

Would it have been worth while,

After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—

And this, and so much more?—

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:

Would it have been worth while

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,

And turning toward the window, should say:

“That is not it at all,

That is not what I meant, at all.”


. . . . .


No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.


I grow old… I grow old…

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.


Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.


I do not think that they will sing to me.


I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.


We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.


About ohhellwhatthehell

I like gin, mittens and otters, not necessarily in that order. Here's some stuff I felt like writing down when I'm not chained to a desk writing other things for a living. Please use caution when using this site; there may be sweary words, cute animals and general bullshit. Don't say I didn't fucking warn you.
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6 Responses to Fear of Failure and of Ageing

  1. kate says:

    Lover, hopefully you don’t need me to tell you, you are basically the opposite of failing ever xx

  2. Carara says:

    Aggressively agree with Kate’s comment above, but also: I feel you. And I’m 35.

  3. This is bullshit. Very beautifully written bullshit, but bullshit nonetheless.
    For a start, you’re awesome. But over and above that, ‘succeeding’ (assuming that’s the opposite of failing?) only happens when you can handle it. Remember 23 year old you (for example)? How much less prepared was she to deal with all the fucking shit that rains on our heads day in and day out? How much did she just not really have a fucking clue about how this shit works?
    Or maybe I shouldn’t be judging you by my own standards, but I am so pleased not to be that clueless, nervous, naive and yet curiously, embarrassingly, over-confident idiot any more.
    Sure, I’m still an idiot, but I know it now. Plus I am much happier telling people to go fuck themselves, and I can afford better wine. If that’s not winning, I don’t know what is.

  4. Um, also, I just realised you pretty much said exactly what I said, so sorry for telling you your own thoughts.
    But – other also – take a moment to think of all the women you really – REALLY – admire.
    How old are they? Bet there aren’t many 24 year olds among them.

  5. Lauren says:

    You are some girl.

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