Fail Again, Fail Better.
– Samuel Beckett
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through was school. From the moment, I stood in front of my kindergarten class to count to 100 (and only got to 19), to sitting in Café Milano on Bancroft after my last lecture at UC Berkeley with Professor Falci, frantically drinking a cup of coffee with soy milk – why the fuck did I get soy milk – in the last place I would even consider placing myself due to the incredibly loud noise level…oh wait, *turns down the setting on my hearing aid to stand-by* there we go. But it’s not totally silent. I hear it. I hear the vibrations, the lows, the man behind the counter literally throwing sandwiches into the toaster over, the fellow students and others discuss whatever may be most important to them, or least important, or anything in between. My hands are shaking from the caffeine. How the fuck did I get here?
I failed most of my education, K-12 that is, and that is most of it, it is large compared to my 5 years of adult academia. I hated going to school because it meant struggling to get up early in the morning (when you’re deaf you’re always tired), showing up to class late (and in embarrassment), then spending, more like wasting, 8 hours of my day learning nothing. The school would ask somebody somewhere to help me hear better and they always seemed to think that I need to hear louder. Once, in elementary school, they wrapped me up with a belt with some box and hooked a cord to one of my hearing aids. My teacher would then wear a microphone. I remember one time, the cord would go in and out, kind of like when earphones go out, so I would tilt my head to the side where the cord happened to transmit sounds without giving up. Someone finally noticed this after weeks and asked me why I was constantly tilting my head. I told them why, and instead of being in awe that I sacrificed my spinal comfort in order to hear like everyone else (or so I thought), I was yelled at by faculty members for not notifying them of the problem. In middle school, I was given a speaker the size of a cantaloupe that I had to carry around like something was wrong with me. Whenever the teacher walked near my desk, feedback would pierce everyone’s ears. After school, I had to return the speaker to a special education classroom to charge it and I dreaded it because the teachers in that room always wanted to converse when all I really wanted was to go home and watch Lizzie McGuire on the Disney Channel. None of this really helped my hearing anyway. It just amplified sound when sound wasn’t the problem. It was transcribing the sound that was lacking.
When I got my first car at the age of eighteen, I managed to drive 25,000 miles within the first year. I would drive aimlessly, all over the bay area but the one place that I disliked driving to, was Berkeley, more specifically the streets surrounding UC Berkeley. Driving up College Avenue and forcefully making a left onto Bancroft was a reminder of my unavoidable failures in education. Going through grade school with faculty that did not know how to make accommodations for me and allowed me to slip through the cracks to graduate as if I was just like any other student, led to me to believe I could never go to college. College was a place for people who had particular learning skills. So seeing sorority and fraternity houses, tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurants to cater to students, and the halls that line up with the streets of Berkeley where students walk passed, created fantasies in my head. What would have happened if I wasn’t born deaf? What if I had gone to all deaf school instead of begging my mom to send me to a public school because I wanted to be normal? Why couldn’t I just be normal?
Some five years ago, I had an epiphany. But not a bad epiphany like one James Joyce would present to us in Dubliners, or an open-ended epiphany like Mrs. Dalloway couldn’t help but go through. It was just a simple moment, where I decided I wanted to go back to school. It would mean quitting my job where I got paid amazingly well, and devoting 100% of my time in learning centers, office hours, study groups, and any other way I could get help. I went in thinking I would be an average student, nearly failing every class, but knowing I tried my best. I ended up leaving my community college with a 4.0 GPA, and an acceptance letter into the College of Letters and Science of UC Berkeley.
In community college, I took responsibility of my disability and worked hard at succeeding. I thought that’s all I needed to do coming to Cal. I very wrong. On top of already having disadvantages through school, being a transfer student was a cherry on top. As a transfer student, you are not prepared as well as students coming as freshmen. You don’t know what to expect when coming in, or maybe you thought we did, but the expectations at Cal are much more different than those at community college. It was like walking into a minefield with no instructions, no map, and no one to turn to.
After spending 2 and half years of dedication and hard work, I came to Cal only to be told by a professor that I shouldn’t be an English major. I was open to criticism and feedback but this professor wouldn’t give it to me. Instead he judged my lack of experience. I went home and ate 20 pieces of chicken nuggets and two whole pizzas to myself. That sort of thing happens when you’re a student at Cal. In addition to developing an eating disorder, I lost a lot of hair (which led me to shave it off in my second semester), gained thirty pounds, fell into crying spells at any given moment and lost so much sleep that even sleep-aids or anti-depressants couldn’t fix.
But what did that mean for me? Do I listen to my professor and pick another major? Do I drop out? Do I give up completely? No. So, what if I didn’t read books all my life like Rory in Gilmore Girls or Roald Dahl’s Matilda? So, what if I preferred to study the lyrics to Smells Like Teen Spirit instead of reading The Odyssey in high school? So, what if I don’t know how many Horcruxes there are in harry potter –I’m just kidding, I totally know there are eight –
About a week after that meeting, I met with another professor and that told me that I made an observation in The Canterbury Tales that no other scholar has ever found before and that’s the reason why I am an English major.
Today, Professor Falci closed his last lecture with why literature is important, and he ended it with a piece on Samuel Beckett. Even though I had no choice but to fail over and over and over again in academia, I managed to fail better and better each time. But what does it mean to fail better? Does it mean to to fail worse than your last failure? Or does it mean to fail less as you go along? I don’t think it means either. I think it means that with each fail, we must learn something from it. Although I learned so much in the last two years at Cal, I mostly learned that there will always be more than one way to look at something, but what is important is that we shouldn’t pick a side. Receiving opposing feedback doesn’t mean one answer is better than the other. It doesn’t mean I should be bias. It means that everyone is different and everyone have their own views. I learned that there is more than one way to read and work. There is more than one way to produce and execute. There is more than one way to be and feel. But I think the most important thing is that it doesn’t matter what other people do. All we need is to do is remind ourselves of how far we have come, and where we are going.