This is not a review.
I generally fail at following this show. I rely on reading blog posts to understand what’s going on. As much as I fail at this, I can at least appreciate what seems to me on of the core themes of the show: failure itself. Episode three in particular, speaks of it clearly to me.
The myth of Icarus, is a tale of failure, where the young boy whose father fashioned a pair of wings from feathers and wax flew too close to the sun and too close to the sea in a fit of heedlessness and consequently melted the wax binding the feathers together and plunged into the sea. It is a story of someone doing what’s more than necessary, in this case to escape from captivity on the island of Crete.
In this episode Akashi and her college circle engineered a flying machine for a competition. She designed it to be flown by someone whose physical traits were so slight and lacking of mass, and “I” was the perfect fit for the machine and the competition. He failed spectacularly by training hard to build strength, and therefore gaining mass. The flying machine was no longer fit for him, so close to the competition.
“I” spectacularly failed at something by exceeding expectations. Akashi engineered a prototype flying machine to his current specifications. She and her ‘circle’ not only didn’t want him to change, but also didn’t expect him to be capable of changing. That is, no one expected him to actually train for the flight test and competition. By exerting effort, “I” failed.
I suppose it’s easy enough to read this as I wanting to change, to exert effort, to try hard, in order to impress others most notably Akashi; while Akashi just wants him the way he is. It’s a reassuring, feel-good message. This isn’t what got to me this episode. It isn’t even the somewhat conflicting message of “do your best to better yourself” and “accepting yourself for who you are (and others for who they are) and not what you want yourself (and others) to be.”
It’s just the horrible feeling of failing at something despite tremendous commitment, but because you were doing it wrong.
I graduated from elementary at the top of my class (it was a very small school), and moved on to a large high school. My idea of “fitting in” was competing hard for grades and impressing my teachers. People looked at me like I was nuts. The truly smart people didn’t really want to make friends with me and I was kind of stuck with slacker nerds. I was 13, and I totally overcompensated by going Bancho which shocked everyone who knew me so far and climbed to the top of the gangs of delinquents by the end of senior year.
For a time I was cool, and was popular/notorious because I had friends (and thuggish senpai) among the upperclassmen. By senior year, nobody gave a shit about punk bad boys. The fashionable bad boys were rich kids who had cars and took girls on drives. I was irrelevant, despite being at the top, a ‘Grand Triskelion’ of the Tau Gamma Phi chapter in our school.
To cap it off, I was denied participation to our graduation because I beat up a punk three days before graduation day. We both had it coming. Yay me.
I promise you, this is not the only time something like this happened. Throughout university, then after graduation, I would launch hard into a certain direction, change course mid-way at full speed, ridiculously overcompensate, then humiliate myself. Allow me to stress this: these periods lasted years, just like “I” in Tatami Galaxy. Truthfully, my life didn’t start turning out until I was 27 years old (I am 33 now).
Watching this episode was rough. I was retching and wanted to puke. The story wasn’t tragic. “I” didn’t elicit sympathy from me. What I had for him was disgust for his pathetic existence. I found him neither funny or inspiring. In him, and in the circumstances he found himself – however absurd, I felt forcefully reminded of all the fail in my life since I started thinking about why I wanted things.
This is the point of this essay when you’d expect me to say that things are okay now. I have a lovely wife and a cute daughter and got farther in my career than many of my contemporaries (or people my age). No. Far from it. The problems I deal with now are far more complex and consequential than ever. The failures I face more humiliating and punishing, since there’s far more at stake.
But I’m far tougher. My soul is not charred with idleness and wasted passion. I may not know whether I prevail or not over the problems I face, but I am more Sisyphus than I am Icarus. I can be with having to roll up the rock I am given up this hill, never knowing if there is a point ever to come of this. Myself at 17, whose younger brothers were never bothered by thugs because my name was feared throughout the schools in the area, has nothing on me as I am today (though no one is, or should be afraid of me anymore).
If you’ve read this far, thank you for indulging me. I’m a sucker for an affecting story, and Tatami Galaxy 03 (Cycling Club Soleil) got me good. Let me leave you with this, a glimpse into one of my failures:
At university I was trained for two things; the scholarship for literature, and the craft of writing poetry. Today I am neither a literary scholar, nor a practicing poet. My specialization in poststructuralism and post-colonial theory made me irrelevant in an era of Philippine literary scholarship dedicated to retrieve, archive, and translate 50,000 years worth of (often oral) literary traditions in over 70 vernacular languages. While I got published in a couple of magazines a few times, I failed at getting into poetry fellowships and never won the contests I joined.
But I loved literature and loved poetry, and, I absolutely loved this poem, that this episode of Tatami Galaxy made me remember love for it:
by W. H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Copyright © 1976 by Edward Mendelson, William Meredith and Monroe K. Spears,
Executors of the Estate of W. H. Auden.
As Auden tells me how Breughel tells it, my melancholy over my failures is of concern only to me. Carry on dear reader, again thank you for indulging me.