J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter book series, delivers her Commencement Address (via), â€œThe Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,â€ at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association.
The fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure….
I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.
Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
,…Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way….Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned….
A while ago I had a chat with one of my friends who is a fake doctor* about fast food. He suggested as a meal or a whole diet fast food is nonsense, and this is pretty much the message everyone has received over the years. He also made another point however. He suggested if fast food is thought of as confectionary, and eaten accordingly at appropriate times, then it is actually really good. Compared to other forms of confectionary — sugared sugar dusted with sugar on an edible sugar-based stick, for example — then most fast food contains some vitamins and sometimes a large amount of protein.
Fast food as confectionary opens up a whole new world of consumption. Confectionary is consumed at certains times of the year and henceforth should be substituted for fast food. I am thinking of Christmas time. INstead of candy canes hanging from the tree, Christmas revellers should hang chicken nuggets. A Easter, chocolate eggs should be replaced with burgers. The best thing about burgers is that, like Easter eggs, they come in different sizes. So for that annoying sub-relative (younger in pecking order relative to grandparents than you, ie cousins of various iterations) a simple ‘hamburger’ will suffice. (Apologies, but I shall draw on the McDonald’s burger typology.) For your sibling, get them heaps and heaps of single meat-serving ‘cheeseburgers’. For your parents, get them something classic, like a ‘Big Mac’ (or whatever signature burger your preferred ‘family’ restaurant produces). For your romantic interest, lash out on a multiple meat-serving, bacon-infused ‘special’, like a triple Quarterpounder with cheese, and perhaps an artistic arrangement of fries and nuggets for presentation points. Unlike chocolate, burgers and most other fast foods will need to be eaten within a 2.5 day window of consumptive opportunity.
Fast food as confectionary can also be used to soothe over trauma with troubled teens. They are too young to have a stiff drink and cigarette. Having a cup of tea is too civilised and unfamiliar. Getting a drive-thru meal or ‘combo deal’ serves as an immanent point of reference external to the situation that can trigger various stories about the ‘last time’ they had said burger/wrap/piece of flavoured and batter-coated chicken. It is something familiar; a space carved out of the landmark franchise-islands and a time congruent with the instant-gratification taste of corn starch thickeryness and suger-salt flavour upgrades. Fast food as confectionary becomes a strategic resource, if used sparingly, that can help teenagers talk through the frustration of not having emoticons in everyday language to express themselves, even if such expression is muted mouthfuls of meat-bun confectionary and a discourse of txt-speak samples from advertisement jingles.
* not a ‘real’ doctor, he is merely a medical doctor
Here is the the powerpoint of the guest lecture I gave a few weeks ago. In the little embedded image above it is too hard to read some slides. The lecture was delivered in front of a ‘cinematic’ lecture theatre projection screen. Literally, the screen is bigger than some old-school cinema screens.
Of course, as I noted in the this thread over at Mel’s blog, from just the lecture slides you miss the awesome story about â€˜collective intelligenceâ€™ and impressing girls in the bookshop when showing them my name next to Freudâ€™s in the index of Warkâ€™s Gamer Theory.