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"The end does, indeed, come like a thief in the night, but then so do new beginnings."

We all understand what to do if, when, at first, we fail to succeed. We try, try again. But what should one do when failing after achieving a certain degree of mastery? Regardless of the previous level of play, failure always remains a possibility. In the early years, the budding apprentice grows to accept that some percentage of his efforts will very likely prove fruitless. The journeyman grows to increasingly rely upon success to manifest, and might even explain these wins as evidence of his growing skill. The master, though, tends to perform in front of larger crowds who amplify his own anticipation of success. Then, a stumble disappoints others, too. We all know what that can do to you.

The blithe response to a master failing tends to be, indeed, a blithe response, a faux-cheerful, aw-shucks chuckle. At least that's the way it might appear on the outside.
On the inside, a more catastrophic event occurs. Shame might hold court. Shame might be the most self-destructive emotion. Shame on me might be the only curse worse than shame on you. Both together leave big divots behind. The more narcissistic might find some apprentice to blame, but the genuine master won't find any ready scapegoat at hand. The blame will land squarely on his shoulders and it will feel every bit the terrible burden it is.

Old reliables sometimes utterly fail us. The barely conscious, semi-comatose routines sometimes crash and burn. The entire universe seems tenuous then. The fresh face-plant hardly prepares anyone to start smiling all over again, especially after decades of experience has (now, suddenly!) proven unreliable. It hardly matters that this latest experience clearly represents what's called a Black Swan Event, a one in a million occurrence. It occurred. It now sits on the very tippy top of the stack, the most recent evidence for anyone looking backward. Perhaps that once dominant mastery has fled. Maybe it's time for a fresh master, says the voice in the newly-disappointed master's head.

It feels easy to cruise on the well-deserved reputation, but much more difficult to swallow the apparently undeserved refutation. One spoiled supper following a long line of superior ones severely soils the sous-chef. Not even the lowly dishwasher wants to look him in the eye. I apologized, of course, though The Muse replied that she thought that it was really pretty good. It was, indeed, pretty, but not, in this master's eye, terribly good. I must have misinterpreted something. Maybe I over-relied upon that clever final stage smoke-off, but the much-touted Peasant Porchetta was a disaster on the cutting board and much worse on the plate. I ate about two bites of my over-sized portion, feeding more of it to Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat than to myself. The Muse ate most of her share. I trundled the whole catastrophe back downstairs. Maybe I can concoct a massive pork green chile something which might remoisturize the mess. Maybe the magpies won't shun it.

The master went to bed hungry and angry at himself. I took the blame. I woke up the next morning still feeling ashamed, wanting nothing more than to burrow back beneath my pillow in hopes of fleeing backwards through time. My dignity tattered, I rose anyway and pretended to reengage with my world, lights off, head down, frowning deeply. My ego's wounded. I only rarely invest in my ego these days. I stay "safely" off stage and mostly downwind. I might spend a quarter of my day making supper, but hardly ever stretch into uncharted territory accomplishing that. I know my limitations and, as a resident master, I tend to be careful about edging myself too close to any well known cliff. I tumbled this time.

Forget everything that's ever been said about mastery. Consider reconsidering even the spelling. I think master-re-re-re might be the better alternative, a form that more properly conforms to the underlying reality. If at last I don't succeed, I guess I'll just have to try, try again, but first I'll have to regain that urge to even try—let alone to try, try—again. The end does, indeed, come like a thief in the night, but then so do new beginnings. My freshly face-planted face almost smiles in gruesome anticipation of regaining my now tarnished master-re-re-re-re in the kitchen. Maybe we'll go out to supper tonight.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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