Skip to Main Content


See All Hours


One Moment...

See Average Occupancy

Common Reading 2023: All of Old. Nothing Else Ever. Ever Tried. Ever Failed. by Silas Dent Zobal

All of Old. Nothing Else Ever. Ever Tried. Ever Failed. — Silas Dent Zobal

“All of Old. Nothing Else Ever. Ever Tried. Ever Failed.” is an essay that explores difficulty in writing and understanding death. Though Zobal acknowledges the inevitability of death, he grapples with the ways that writing about death is always a failure—not a bad failure, but a failure to capture the complex and ambiguous nature of death.

Discussion Question

  1. Zobal writes that every time he tries to write about death, he fails, so much so that the failure becomes part of his writing process. What kinds of failures do you incorporate into your creative processes? How can embracing failure help you to achieve your artistic vision?

Class Activity

Zobal’s task in this essay is to offer advice on writing. His essay doesn’t take the typical form of advice or how-to guides, and instead explores uncomfortable experiences and uses those experiences to demonstrate techniques for writing death and its ambiguity. Think of something you feel qualified to offer advice on, but instead of directly offering that advice, describe some experiences you’ve had that illustrate your advice.

Introduction — Tony Zitta

It’s my understanding that I’m here to outline the following essay “All of Old. Nothing Else Ever. Ever Tried. Ever Failed.” by Silas Zobal. To tell you what to expect. That maybe I am an expert in its reading and can help enlighten, as if gifted some divine power. But I am incapable. Maybe every time I read this essay, I get something new out of it, something that contradicts my last reading. In every reading I am somewhere else in my life (Aren’t we all? Constantly somewhere not here?). When I first started college, I thought I knew everything already. That I knew what to expect from the rest of my life. Then my dad suddenly passed away the first week of classes. That next summer my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor. How did those things come to happen? I didn’t know. And I don’t know now, either. But I am trying to talk to you about it. Is there anything I do know? I know a bit more of the reality of death. I know my favorite movie is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). I know what Zobal means when he says, “Things keep dying, nothing else ever.” I know it in feeling. But I can’t exactly describe it in words. Same as if I tried pointing to the meaning of the whole essay. I would fail. But here I go anyway.

It means: everything up until now has been a series of successful failures. Without this failure there can be no success.

Or how about: the moment we claim to know something so completely, we have in fact failed to learn anything. Definites are dangerous. They say, “only a Sith deals in absolutes.”

Or: we will never be able to fully comprehend life or death. Admitting this is the start of becoming more fully ourselves.

I am still limited in my understanding of death. Of this essay. My attempt at knowing will never be enough. Does that make sense to you? Today, the things I least expect are still waiting to happen. Even if I try to anticipate what I don’t know, there will always be some crucial detail missed. I will have failed to prepare, notice, learn. This is constant. The always not knowing. Do I know anything? I know my favorite movie is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

Additional Resources

SU Creative Writing

Check out SU's creative writing department.

Essay Magazine

Check out Essay, the nonfiction literary magazine on campus.

Writers Institute Instagram

Check out the Instagram for SU's Writers Institute.

Samuel Beckett, the Maestro of Failure

This article does a deep dive on writer Samuel Beckett and discusses his relationship with failure.

I Remember You

Read Roger Ebert's essay ruminating on death and memory.

Writing Death

Read a different perspective on writing about death.

On the Challenges of Writing About Death

Read another essay discussing the difficulties of writing about death.

About the Author

Silas Dent Zobal has stories in the Missouri Review, Glimmer Train, New Orleans Review, North American Review, Shenandoah, and elsewhere. He has been awarded a NEA fellowship in fiction, won the Glimmer Train Fiction Open, and been a scholar at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. His collection of stories, The Inconvenience of the Wings, was named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2015. Publishers Weekly called his debut novel, The People of the Broken Neck, "profoundly moving."


Blough-Weis Library

514 University Avenue

Selinsgrove, PA 17870 | 570.372.4160

Susquehanna University


Facebook          Instagram      TikTok      Roger     

Send Us Feedback | © Blough-Weis Library | LibApps Login