Hi, I’m Peter Bowden. The one in that picture above. I’m a human. This may not be quite clear from the picture, which might as well just be an ugly potato in a hairstorm; but I am human, and if anyone doubts this, I have certificates. If you poison me, I presumably die, and if you prick me, it’s genuinely quite messy. As a human – a bit like you, except I’m probably the only person to hate me more than my readership do – I make mistakes.
You’re shocked; most of you are thinking, “But you’re Peter Bowden! A student columnist! You shatter worlds with a well-placed keystroke!” No: I fail, just like you. I forget the names of half my friends, and the faces of the rest. I use the word “gay” twenty-six times in a single column, and expect it to get printed. Where you have emotional intimacy, I have Virtua Tennis 2. And failure hurts; that’s the point of it. But without failure, everything else is pointless. Without failure, Cool Runnings would be a rubbish film. Without failure, Larkin would have nothing to write about, and would scour townside gutters for mislaid pennies. He couldn’t fail there, obviously, so he’d make a decent living, but that’s not the point. He’d be wasted.
This term, for the first time, every Cherwell article’s gone online, open to the anonymous commentary of every passing malcontent with a ground axe to fling. Imagine an army of blank-faced ghosts standing outside your house to yell “twat” whenever a window opens; that’s the Internet. So I’ve been forced to accept a little failure in everything I write; but most importantly, I’ve learned to embrace it. We’ll always fail a little, because, as I now realise, it’s impossible to please everyone.
In Oxford journalism, write about Oxford, and you can barely avoid being a compendium of punting-spires clichés; write about the outside world, and you’re “irrelevant”. Keep things locked on the formal logic, and you’re a lecturer; slip off slightly, and you’re a “shite journalist”. An analogy: it’s like a tightrope. But one surrounded by razorblades, so if you even so much as stifle a wobble, you’ve accidentally sliced off your shins. And it happens in everything: no matter who you are or what you do, on some level, you’re going to fail.
But if only we listened to every snagging doubt on the way, we’d never do anything. Just listen to my mental monologue: “Were the razorblades necessary? Why did we do this at all? This is all far too introverted for student papers. Should’ve stuck with the Killing Tories piece, that might’ve had jokes. Why am I here? Let’s run to Edinburgh and grow a beard.” Yet, learning to fail liberates us. Let’s all stop caring. Prepare to fail, and you’ve prepared for anything.