21. The F Word (Part 2)

The 4 weeks of semester break between April and May 2011 were the worst 4 weeks of break ever.

Almost every day of it was spent obsessing over my performance in business law, wondering if I had scored enough in my assignments and in my class participation to pass or not. That, and going through my contingency plans in the event if I actually did fail – should I take a government loan and go on with the course? Should I get out of it, and start again somewhere else?

In many ways, the worst part about getting an F isn’t that I have to retake the course, or suffer the humiliation, or any of those things – it’s the feeling that I’m letting my parents down. It’s bad enough when I came home with a C once, in the second semester of my first year – how would they react to an F? The dread was a crushing, sinking feeling – and your stomach feels like a cold, empty void.

At 2.43A.M. on 23 April, 2011, I decided to do something about that feeling. It was an obsession, and I knew that it couldn’t lead anywhere good. After all, ‘which one of you, by worrying, can add even one hour to his life?’, right? The dread was a thorn in my flesh. A stomach flu, eating away at my appetite. A mind-virus, threatening to take over. It had already launched its offense at me, and the only way I could make sure that it doesn’t conquer me, was to fight back.

And so I fought back the way I knew best: by writing.

I spent the next one month, and a little bit more, basically writing away my worries. It wasn’t even a very long script – a little under 5 pages, and I never even finished the script. But that Saturday morning on 23 April, as I deliberated upon what to write about, I knew I couldn’t just write about anything to forget about the issue – that’s avoidance. I wanted to take this battle to the face of the issue, and win the war that really mattered – more than trying to write something good, or something entertaining, I wanted to write to convince myself. Of what? I didn’t know yet. But it had to be about failing.

So I wrote “The F Word”. To explore what it means to fail, and to see where it would take me.

Some writers are performers – they write primarily for an audience; and some writers are artists – they write primarily for themselves. The nuances between the two shall be covered another day, but that should do for now, and what you need to know is that I am a performer kind of writer. It’s why I write the way I do. But “The F Word” was a special project in the sense that it was possibly the first thing that I have written for myself, first; and then an audience next. I was writing, likely for the first time, not to entertain anyone – but to win a battle that was raging in my head.

And then in May 2011, halfway through the third sequence of the script, I found myself writing to entertain again. I found myself laughing at what I was writing into the lines of dialogue, and even in Joel’s internal monologue. I was no longer frowning, or gritting my teeth when I wrote on the subject of failing – I was no longer writing to convince myself.

There the script stopped, because I have already accomplish what I had set out to do. Halfway through the writing, I had taken the fear of failing by its neck and strangled it to death. I wasn’t afraid of failing business law anymore. The battle in my mind was over.

I was free.

SEQUENCE 1
Scene 2

JOEL bursts into the lecturers’ office.

JOEL
You CANNOT do this to me.

LECTURER
Is there a problem, Joel?

JOEL
Yes, yes there is. Entrepreneurship class. Spring semester. I got an F for that class. There must be some kind of mistake.

LECTURER
Oh, my. Let me check that. You’re a good student, Joel, you shouldn’t be failing.

JOEL (VO)
Yes, salvation! Now all I need to do is show her how right I am and-

LECTURER
Oh dear. It seems that you really failed, Joel, you only have 52% for that class.

JOEL
52%?? Impossible, by my calculations, I should be getting at least a B plus!

LECTURER
It says here that you only got 8 out of 20 for your mid terms.

JOEL
Yes, but the extra credit made up for that!

LECTURER
And your attendance is dreadful, you only attended six classes the whole semester?

JOEL
Well… Yes, but-

LECTURER
And you did not hand in ANY of your assignments.

JOEL
NO! I did! I stapled it all together and-

JOEL (VO)
That’s when I remembered. It was the last class of the semester. I had all of my assignments done and piled up nicely and placed in my bag, ready to be handed in at the last minute. That’s when a call came.

CUE FLASHBACK SEQUENCE

JOEL’s phone rings, and he picks it up. It’s Ted.

TED
Yo, Joel! Up for a movie? Like, now?

JOEL
Depends on what movie that is.

TED
Green Lantern. Premiere passes. I saved one for you, man.

JOEL (VO)
Premiere passes to a movie that’s only going to be released two months later? I couldn’t let the opportunity go. My lecturer will have to wait for the assignment.

JOEL
I’m coming. See you in fifteen.

END FLASHBACK SEQUENCE

JOEL (VO)
…but that would mean that my assignment is-

JOEL opens the bag front pocket, and finds his assignments still inside, stapled and all. Jaw drops.

JOEL (VO)
It’s true. It’s really true. I… I’ve failed.

(to be continued)

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