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Question of the Week: Mistakes.

by Susan Henderson on May 7, 2007

Tell about a big mistake you made in life. I want to hear about a weight you carry, a prank that got carried away, something you let slip through your hands, something that led you down a path that frightened you.

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Wednesday, Lance is back to interview public radio regular, Heather McElhatton, about PRETTY LITTLE MISTAKES. Don’t miss it!

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P.S. Thanks to Rachel Kramer Bussel for the link! Rachel is a fellow HuffPost blogger, former sex columnist at The Village Voice, current senior editor for Penthouse Variations, and one of the rotating interviewers for Gothamist.com. If you click on her blog, you’ll see she wrote something very sweet about one of my stories.

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Simon Haynes May 7, 2007 at 6:55 am

I carried a regret for 25 years, something left over from high school. It wasn’t anything major, just an unintended hurt inflicted upon someone I cared about at the time. In fact, it was really trivial but it still bugged me.

The funny thing is, I caught up with the other party by email a couple of years back and they didn’t even remember me. Maybe they were just getting their own back, but either way it set my mind at ease and I’ve barely thought about them since.

The thing to remember is that not everyone has total recall. I remember conversations I had 30-35 years ago, whereas others don’t seem to remember what they promised last week.

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mikelkpoet May 7, 2007 at 7:53 am

I’m perfect. I never make mistakes.

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted May 7, 2007 at 8:34 am

I’ve made so many mistakes. I’d rather not play favorites here.

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Susan Henderson May 7, 2007 at 9:40 am

I wonder if I’ll have to bribe you guys to whip out the really good stories. Too bad there’s no swag left from Nile’s gala. I dropped it off with my neighbor and told her to take whatever she wanted, and she gave me back the empty bag.

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Robin Slick May 7, 2007 at 9:52 am

I can’t answer this question because (a) it would be novel length; and (b) Google picks up all of the comments here and I would have to go into serious hiding.

One homogenized but oh so true answer would be is that I wish I didn’t screw around in school, i.e. taking classes which would be of no use to me later. Ah, if only I’d both studied literature and started actively writing toward getting published when I was a lot younger…but then again, if I didn’t work in the law office for many years, I wouldn’t have gained the maturity and confidence instilled by my former boss/mentor of twenty years; and even more important, Julie and Eric might not be the well-adjusted (and well fed) kids they are today.

And yeah, okay, I guess I wish I could change certain aspects of my behavior…meaning, I do not suffer fools lightly and can’t keep my mouth shut when someone I consider to be a fool irritates me…I need to be able to play nice and walk away so I don’t have those cringe-worthy moments that keep me up at night and cause me (probably) to be on high blood pressure medication.

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Betsy May 7, 2007 at 10:01 am

Good lord, my entire life up until about fifteen years ago was nothing but mistakes, then maybe another five or ten more of making some of the same mistakes again, and only in the last five or so have I stopped making so many new ones. BUT. I don’t regret too many of them, because many of them were very cute and provided some great story material. One mistake I’ve made a couple of times is moving across country without a plan and then moving right back, but the second time it worked out really well – I managed to learn enough from the first time to only bring one suitcase this time instead of everything I owned. I have regrets about being sort of a brat when my mom was first diagnosed with cancer, but it’s kind of a long story, and fortunately I did my best to atone for that before she died.

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Nicole May 7, 2007 at 11:11 am

I was thinking you meant mistakes, as in typos.

You mean big mistakes.

My post would be novel length.

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Carolyn Burns Bass May 7, 2007 at 11:29 am

I wasted too many years believing it took confidence to birth my big ideas. I realize now that it’s not confidence that gives ideas life, but commitment, diligence, and perseverance.

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Terry May 7, 2007 at 11:49 am

I’m tempted to say something pithy.

But that would be a mistake.

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lance reynald May 7, 2007 at 11:50 am

at the moment I’m questioning a promise I made not to throw rocks in the park.

but, I’ll bite my tongue on all that; for now.

On a good day I try my best to make it all the way til noon without some kind of Freudian mis-step.

There have been the classics of loving the wrong people, not loving the right ones and hurting everyone in the meantime. My own struggles with addictions and expressions…the list goes on, not a single part of my life that isn’t somehow the product of some mistakes that I’ve made somewhere. The skeletons in the closet and ugly truths I see in the mirror. And yes, there are some that I’m not even willing to share here…not to save face, but…some are just saved for places of sharing; where there is trust. But there is one that I carry, no matter how my heart and mind turns it and how I feel about my own responsibility to others…
About twenty years ago I introduced my best friend to some pretty vicious narcotics. Substances I myself have spent countless years struggling with; but I was the one who understood some of the limits of escapism…how to be numb enough to get through. This was not only my best friend, but the one person that shared too many of my own nightmares…we both needed escape. I’m not aiming at vague here…just trying to convey that this friend may have been one of the only people in the world to know, understand and accept all of my demons. We played with a lot of narcotics to escape these demons; my idea…Justified by this idiotic notion that we were entitled to that kind of escape. He died of an overdose by the time we were 19. I often think he would have never started using had I not thought it was so fun to get so wasted… the good old chicken and the egg debate on recreational drugs. A mistake that cost me a person I’d still like to share life’s ups and downs with. A confidant I’ve never been able to replace.

So, Yeah…some mistakes haunt forever. Some are ugly enough to stand between you and courage…but, if you can find a way to express them you can also find a place to put them. They are, after all, your own…certainly they make you unique.

(funny, but getting that all out caused me to drop that hand full of rocks I brought with me. Sorry about the length on that one Wondertwin)

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Kaytie May 7, 2007 at 12:15 pm

I have a decision that haunts me, but I don’t think of it as a mistake–rather, it was a decision I had to make between two impossible choices. No matter which I chose I’d create one disaster or other. Sorry I can’t elucidate here but it’s all rather raw…

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mikelkpoet May 7, 2007 at 12:39 pm

I lied. I was born; “that was a mistake,” my father always said.

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Noria May 7, 2007 at 1:34 pm

Two things I wish I hadn’t done:

When I was in sixth grade my best friend and I picked up an eight-year-old girl by her arms and legs and dropped her into a mud puddle. She’d flipped us off. With the wrong finger, but still.

More recently I forgot to meet a reporter who was going to interview me. He just sat at the cafe and waited and waited.

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Mark Bastable May 7, 2007 at 2:10 pm

I guess there are people who makes mistakes that they regret for the rest of their lives, but most of us don’t ever really make any kind of screw-up that doesn’t fall into the category of “but on the other hand, if I hadn’t done that bad thing this good thing wouldn’t have happened.”

So – I guess I could regret that I dropped out of University after three months of inattention, but had I stayed, I wouldn’t have got a really great job as a sub-editor in a publishing house at the absurdly young age of eighteen.

I guess I could regret that I left that fantastic job in publishing after barely a year in order to be in a rock’n'roll band, but had I not been in the rock’n'roll band I wouldn’t have got to … well, do all sorts of things.

I guess I could regret not seeing my son for the first year of his life, but had I not that done back then it’s quite possible he wouldn’t be living with me now.

For years I regretted blowing a particular romantic relationship in my early thirties (and it was entirely my fault), but had I not done that, I’d never have met my wife and I wouldn’t now be father to two Eleanor and Gracie.

So – what I’m saying here – is that most mistakes are contextual to the moment, and their effects are unentanglable (yes it is a word – look it up) from the rest of one’s life. Mistakes are just real-life plot. Except for typos on Litpark. There’s no way back from those motherfigkers.

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Nathalie May 7, 2007 at 3:18 pm

Mistake? Like in: the things you learn from?
There is a lesson I took off the edge of a regret.

Many years ago (in the mid 80′s), when I was a student, my mother used to run a little tea shop and I would spend all my free time there, helping her, studying or making friends with the customers.
We had loads of familiars and one of them was a funny Iranian guy who had come to France to study philosophy. He was a nice guy and, since he was away from his loved ones, he often came to chat with my mother, for a little family feel. So I got used to see him every day and to chat and joke with him. It was a light friendship, he was easy to get along with; he had (still has, I hope) such a sunny disposition it would have been difficult to not like him. But I never paid too much attention to him because he was always around or never far off.
Until – one day – he left.
And then I realised that I missed him, that I should have taken more care of this friendship we had. I had taken his presence for granted and suddenly he wasn’t there anymore.
I have missed him ever since and I hope I have learned my lesson.

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Colin Matthew May 7, 2007 at 3:59 pm

Credit cards. Two of them. I think I would have been fine with just one, but then I got a second for “emergency” purposes. Needless to say, they are both a $3,000 mistake.

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Juliet May 7, 2007 at 4:30 pm

I’ve thought through this repeatedly this afternoon.

I thought of what I’ve shared here before—how out of hand a writing project got.
How I have hurt those whose hearts were entrusted to me, and how, like Lance, I grieve for that still. (And fight the urge to add “I’m sorry” in the subtext.)

But what comes back to me is the face of a girl I knew in 1978. She was five, six maybe.Free and careless, deeply in love with the world in a way that made the sound a ripe apple makes as you crunch into it. Crisp. Satisfying; the juice of it spilling down your chin.

That girl, her hair curly and wild, eyes not big enough to contain the joy that lived inside her.

In years to come, she would go from a free bird, flying and nesting in flowers; a wildcat, prowling the woods for adventure. Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn… they had nothing on her.

I think often of places where I sold her out. Where I believed lies and Fear and sold her for a night’s rest. A meal. A smile from some fool who meant little to her, and she, far less to him.

I think of all the times I fooler her into believing that there was nothing for her.
Where I silenced her voice so that the voice of those bigger than she could win.
Where safety overcame adventure, and truth silenced on lips bitten in fear.

I think of how many years I forced her to travel no where.
The promises I made that I could never live up to.
The way I shut her up, shut her down, shut her out.

And let everyone else in.

How I became exactly who she hoped I’d never be.
And how she suffered for it.

No, she wasn’t some daughter or sister or friend.
She was… she is me.

My biggest regret is how much time I wasted in being everyone else but who I was created to be.

Grace was found on that day years ago when I looked into the mirror and realized unlike the cowardice of self, she never gave in… and was there, waiting.

And lives on.

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Juliet May 7, 2007 at 4:46 pm

Number Two:
(And on a whole other level)

From 1995-1998, I dragged my child through those years of abuse by the men in my life (them to me).
I did everything you can imagine to try to keep us safe, but if I am honest with myself, I can only admit that I knew, when getting pregnant with him, that the man I was with was an abusive jerk.
But I also knew that I wanted to have a baby because I wanted someone to keep.

Someone who could never leave. Who would love me.
Admire me. To listen to my “no” in some weird mathmatical conculsion that it would somehow even out all the times no one had heard my “no”.

I made no adult decision about having life to give and share… to having an abundance that I would bless a child with.

I thought of me. And only me.

One day, I was at the end of myself. Sure, I had suffered emotional and physical abuse. Sure, I’d been put through the wringer.
When he came to ask me for a drink of milk, I found myself pushed too far and slapped him across the face.
He cried, I cried… and for not the first time, I realized how far away from the woman I wanted to be (the Mother I should have been) I really was.

From that moment on, I did everything I could, no matter how hard, how painful and scary to make sure that my son would never look at me and find anger in response to his need…to make our lives into what they should have been.

It’s been eight years since that day, and my son and I have a relationship that most parents never see with their children. We have healed, we have grown, and he is among the most secure, happy children you’ll meet.

But sometimes, at night when he’s sleeping, I sit there and remember the sound of that slap, and I weep.

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Jody Reale May 7, 2007 at 5:27 pm

Thank you, Lance.

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Brian Hadd May 7, 2007 at 6:14 pm

Fright mistakes fright, mistakes frighten good. Survived!

The Hood Company

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Anneliese May 7, 2007 at 7:02 pm

Thank you Carolyn Burns Bass! I needed that very much.

Mistakes, there’ve been a few…sometimes I confuse the meaning with “regrets.” I used to have a saying that I’d rather die regretting the things I’ve done, than regretting the things I did not. But that’s regrets, not mistakes.

I’ve attempted posting a comment to this question, yet keep getting tongue-tied, fever blistered, and carpal tunneled when typing out my hair shirt-laundry list of mistakes.

There’ve been a few, and we’ll just have to leave it at that. Besides, what Robin said – our comments are Googleable! I’m all uptight knowing my name’s attached across the internets. :)

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lance reynald May 7, 2007 at 7:29 pm

Jules- remind me that I owe you a drink or a dozen at Wordstock this year.

Jody- no sweat.

and for everyone that faced this week’s question with both courage and that good old magnifying mirror…Thank you.

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Jordan E. Rosenfeld May 7, 2007 at 9:39 pm

Mistake #1: Saying yes to my ex on that gondola in venice when he proposed. But 2 more weeks in Europe with a rejected suitor was far less appealing.

#2. Money. Wasting it. Going into debt. I cringe at the dollars I casually spent that were either given to me, or not mine to have (credit)…and that I kept a huge debt a secret (out of shame) from my soon to be husband until a week before our wedding (It’s grace that he married me at all)…

Fortunately those days are behind me. I have paid those debts over and over again.

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Julie Ann Shapiro May 8, 2007 at 12:26 am

Mistakes, regrets – these are so personal that I almost felt too embarassed to post them. I think for the past three years I put so much energy into writing neearly three complete novels, a bunch of flashes on top of my freelance writing -that I didn’t put as much time into friends and a work culture. I forgot how much fun hanging out with friends could be – now it’s about life balance. I’m still writing, every day – but am less manic about it and am getting more social just in time for summer and my new fun job.

I also regret that I didn’t spend more time with my Grandma. She passed on about five years ago and I miss her. I’m thankful for the wonderful times we had, but wish often that I could see that special twinkle in her eyes when she laughed.

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Julie Ann Shapiro May 8, 2007 at 9:45 am

I guess I didn’t answer the question. Ooops. Most of the time a decisions feel right at about time. In heindsight things do look different. But I think that’s intended so we can get wiser about the decisions we make. Now I weigh the rational side in more with the emotional.

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Ric Marion May 8, 2007 at 10:58 am

Mistakes? As in finishing the novel, sending out queries, getting two requests for fulls, and then putting the wrong cover letters in the fedex packages?

or virgins can’t get pregnant the first time? (I got my daughter a t-shirt – “I was conceived at Woodstock”)

I think, and judging from the comments on this thread, that the only thing one can do is acknowledge the mistake, and move ahead. Are there things I would have done differently? Of course. Were there mistakes that caused me pain? Of course. But mistakes are a part of life. They happen. You can say, “I really f**ked that up.”, but then you build on it, become a better person, a better parent, a better friend, a better lover.

That’s why there’s no owner’s manual for life. We do, we learn, we grow. We screw up, we try to fix it, we try again.

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A.S. King May 8, 2007 at 12:25 pm

I’m not sure where I adopted this chipper point of view relating to mistakes, but I reckon there are no such things in life – because everything is happening for a reason. (I am aware this makes me sound like a new-age chick and don’t really care.)

As for specifics, the list is long. However, if I dig to the important ones – life threatening and useless – I believe it was a large mistake to start smoking cigarettes at the age of 11. It took me two and a half decades to finally beat them out of my life, and if I was to be stern about passing on any wisdom based on a true mistake in my life, this would be it. (240-ish days smoke-free, and STILL gutting for one at times.) I don’t feel this way about drugs or alcohol because I was lucky enough that none of them became habitual. And looking back while applying my ‘everything happens for a reason’ theory, I can’t come up with one good reason why I smoked cigarettes.

As for those life mistakes – like leaving college after two months the first time, or stealing, or being rude or silly or stupid – they all add up to where I am now, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. So just because the road that got me here had potholes, it still got me here.
Right? (Right?)

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Susan Henderson May 8, 2007 at 1:11 pm

Wow, wow, wow, you amazing people. I’m going to respond to this thread with my Weekly Wrap on Friday. xo

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Julie Ann Shapiro May 9, 2007 at 1:40 am

I just received my daily inspiration quote. It’s so appropos for this topic.

Quote of the Day
“A mistake is simply another way of doing things.”
– Katharine Graham

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Ellen Meister May 9, 2007 at 5:58 am

Twenty years ago I turned my back on a friend who meant a lot to me, for reasons I’m only now starting to understand. I recently found out she died sometime in the 90s, so I can’t apologize, can’t undo any of the hurt I caused.

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Richard May 9, 2007 at 9:23 am

“Regrets, I have a few, but then again, too few to mention…”

I wish.

It’s really hard to read everyone’s comments without reflecting on some “mistakes” of my own. But since I’ve only recently come to accept that I’ve actually been personally responsible for what’s happened to me (time and again), I’m realizing that maybe there are no mistakes – wait – is this denial AGAIN? (Denial is a vicious, omnivorous, sneaky-ass killer, pouncing in mid-thought, eviscerating glimmers of truth.) Can shame or a bad conscience be put to rest? Will we EVER forgive ourselves and move forward? This morning, for me, self-awareness is much too raw… and I *should* delete this comment without posting.

I’m copping out. Is that a mistake?

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J.D. Smith May 9, 2007 at 10:59 am

Although I am unwilling to get into specifics, most of my mistakes have been sins of omission: that piece not written, that application not filled out, that confession of love not made in a timely way. Whatever successes I’ve had have stemmed from taking some kind of risk, and the experiences of taking risks and failing recede into the background.

The chances not taken can haunt us. Fortunately, I’m learning to embrace the risks before me.

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Jody Reale May 9, 2007 at 12:03 pm

I guess that I, too, am going to take a pass this week. There’s been some potent stuff posted; I read Mr. Reynold’s and Juliet’s entries several times. But I keep getting distracted by all the things I’ve told myself about mistakes in general, and mine in particular.

What even is a mistake, I keep wondering. I can’t help but think of them without thinking of all the things that happen immediately afterward and out into infinity, both to me and countless others. I can’t help but begin praying to the holy trinity of Should-a, Could-a, Would-a. I can’t help but think that thinking too much about them train us to think that we’ve been right or wrong, when I know how overrated being right is; as my dad would say, “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, buddy.” I can’t help but remember that obsessing over a mistake that I’ve made is likely to trip me up in the future, even though we all know that old saw about history repeating itself.

So I’ll just say this: I guess we need them or we wouldn’t have them. (And thanks for the writing prompt. I’ll be chewing on it for a nice, long while.)

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David Niall Wilson May 9, 2007 at 3:03 pm

How in the world would you choose? And also – as much as I may regret certain actions / happenings in my past, I can also follow their trail into my present and see the things I would have missed / never known if I’d chosen differently…who can say if it would be better now if I’d been better then?

I regret convincing my first wife to marry me. We were both far too young, and both quite happy together prior to the marriage. Things spun out of control not long after we signed the papers, and I have to think that a lot of things would be different had I not been so adamant … in fact, looking back, I’m sure this was brought on by insecurity and the fear of losing her.

In any case…as much as it hurt, we are both doing well now…and actually on speaking terms…

Life is a crap shoot and if you’re going to go for 7′s and 11′s every throw, you’re going to be very disappointed over time.

DNW

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daryl May 10, 2007 at 3:22 pm

i “hate” people who when asked, “if you had it all to do over again, would you?”, who emphatically state that they would not change a thing in their lives. either these people are of that higher caste, “the truly enlightened” or they are of that lower caste, “they who live in the here and now, who only look at the decision which is right before them and take full responsibility for all their lives deeds”.

does this make any sense? so, do i thus hate everyone? yes i do.

all a mistake is is the poorer chosen option. my life is a culmination of never choosing the best options… i made mistakes. sure. but i made the best decisions that i could under all of my circumstances. would i like to be 17 years old again? knowing what i know now, hell yes i would go through that dreadful and lonely and frightening year again. if i was given the gift of foresight and had the option of changing my decisions, would i? there is the catch. i don’t know if i would have the balls to or not. one different decision remade during the entirety of one’s life can change the world’s history.

there was no one great mistake i’ve made. but every time i could have chosen to say more, or to be quiet, or to put more effort into something, or to walk away… what i did was always the RIGHT decision because if i hadn’t made them, i would not be right here, right now.

and hey, i don’t “hate” anyone…

love,
daryl

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daryl May 10, 2007 at 3:27 pm

“thank you daryl for confessing nothing at all…”

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Juliet May 10, 2007 at 7:59 pm

We love you too, Daryl.

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Just me November 20, 2007 at 4:34 am

I got here by pondering this question trying to open a new window, “How do I tell the world how sorry I am for all the mistakes that I have made in life”. Guess that perhaps I need to stop feeling so sorry for myself, stop acting so stupid in life and try to make some amends to some people and not sure who all of them really are. I think that bugs me a lot, keeps me from having the confidence that I really want is that I am not sure who I have hurt or who still supports me? Ironic hugh? If I knew who I hurt, then I would know what I was or had done that was wrong and perhaps I could fix that? It seems to me that some people think that they know what I have done that was wrong, my only wonder is how can they when I really don’t? If I knew who my supporters were and what they were actually supporting me for or in I think it would help me to be able to do better in the long run. The thing is I am not sure how to go about figuring all of that out or what kind of amends I need to make, or to who? I think forgiveness is not so much about them as about me letting go, and so if that is the situation then I don’t have to expect anything from anyone besides myself right? Me oh me oh my, LOL LOL LOL Kind of wish this were my blog and I was you and people were being honest with me. What have you done to make the world a better place today and who do you owe amends too? How did you figure out what your greatest mistakes in life were and how did you fix them? Silly ain’t I? Just moving along here I suppose?

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C November 21, 2007 at 1:44 pm

Wearing my heart on my sleeve…way too many
times.I have loved too easily and too quickly
which has led to much bliss and also much pain.

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Cordelia December 8, 2007 at 11:33 pm

My current hobby is continually beating myself up for any and all (small and large) mistakes I made in the raising of my children. I am very good at it, almost qualifying as a masochist except that I do not enjoy this sort of pain. I am talking about the tiniest of mistakes, mispoken words, not paying enough attention at a given moment, not making myself even more of the doormat that I was (and in some ways, remain). I have always been hard on myself in many ways, but since they both are on their own now, in committed relationships, successful and happy (for which I am very thankful and glad) and I do not often see them, mistakes and stupidities from the past rise up and smite my mind and heart — sometimes many times every day. It is all so useless. I cannot go back and redo anything and what I did was not such a bad job, despite everything. I cannot figure out why it is I seem to want to redo so many things, something I know is impossible but want it anyway. I would love to stop this self-torture but nothing seems to work.
It is nice to have found this blog and seen that I am not alone, at least. I must say that all of us who engage in self-torture of this nature, at least we have caring hearts, which is way more than what most of the world seems to have.

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