I want to write something fantastic today, but honestly, I’m sitting here staring into the yawning mouth of my ancient printer, wondering about the meaning of life. In other words: I just got a rejection letter.
I get rejection letters all the time. I’m a writer. This one hurt in particular because the editor had written to me first, rather than the other way around. She requested a specific piece. She named an amount of money that was larger than any amount of money I’ve ever been offered for anything I’ve written. And she suggested that the process to publication would be smooth.
Nothing had been signed. Nothing was formally formalized, but she sounded so certain that I felt so certain that I did the thing I shouldn’t have done: I told my parents.
Look how well I’m doing! This big deal magazine came to ME!
We were in the kitchen, at their house. They were so excited for me. They said a lot of things about how things are finally coming together for me. How my hard work is paying off.
Two years of full time writing, taking little tiny steps, getting little tiny sips of success. The inevitable plummet into the panic attack on the couch. The sense that I am always slipping behind. The thrill of seeing my work on a big site. The desperate determination. The fierce pride. The itching sensation my Master’s degree causes, in that spot in my head where I sometimes think about it. It whispers, “For this you went to an Ivy League school?” It is not sensitive about my artistry. It is not even that nice, from what I can remember. I remember thinking, “This is what an Ivy League degree looks like? Could they at least have used a pretty font? Maybe some gold embossing?” I remember realizing that I was still exactly the same. That I couldn’t stand on this degree and become a different, taller, more impressive person. I still wanted the same things.
Two years. Longer than my grad school program. Writers think it’s funny when they’re writing ridiculous lists of writerly advice, to begin with, “Don’t become a writer.” How can you not become a writer, given the chance, if all you have ever wanted to do is write stories? But then, once you are doing this, how do you do it gracefully? How do you do it in a way that you can take home to your parents, when your parents didn’t know what a blog was two years ago? When the people you meet at parties say, “My cousin writes for the New York Times Magazine. Have you been in there?” When everyone in the world says, “Do you have a book out yet?” Do I have a book out? Can I please just get published in a print magazine? Just once? Just so I could say it happened? So I can run my fingers over the glossy page, where my words, heavily edited to the point of being unrecognizable, I’m sure, stare up at me, new born.
The piece didn’t have universal appeal, the editor told me. That was why it didn’t work, in the end.
I looked blankly at the screen for a long time, trying to decide what that meant. I sound like I’m weird? I mention eating pizza too frequently, and women aren’t supposed to love pizza that much? Too funny? Not funny enough? Code for “terrible and unreadable”?
I want my parents to think I am doing something with my life. I want my in-laws to think I am doing something with my life. I want my friends to think I am doing something with my life. And I even care about the random people I meet at parties and in the elevator. I want to be a person who is obviously doing something with her life. Something legitimate.
This writing thing, it never has any guarantees. And I don’t mean that in this “well, of course it doesn’t, life doesn’t come with a receipt,” kind of way. I mean it in a gut-wrenching, black hole, you-will-occasionally-feel-so-worthless-that-you-will-want-to-hide-under-something-in-the-closet-for-the-next-year way. And then you will have to remind yourself that you chose this. And that actually, you have it really good. And that you are being whiny right now. That you need to have a thicker skin.
That will be your mantra. Get a thicker skin. Keep going.
That is my mantra. Other than “eat the damn cake,” I mean. Which is of course my mantra (and a much better, happier, more interesting one).
I made the mistake of fantasizing about how that little story would look. I imagined people buying the magazine, opening it, reading the story. I imagined slipping the title of the magazine into my collection of names that give me stability. The names that hold my name up and make it feel like it means something. The names I can take home to my parents.
I wish I hadn’t told them.
OK, back to staring into the dusty mouth of the ancient printer. Eventually, I may have an epiphany here. Maybe I’ll develop a new definition of “making it.” That might be nice. I think mine is kind of harsh.
Or maybe I’ll get up and eat something.
* * *
How do you handle rejection? Any tips? Any good stories?
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in those three-quarter length yoga pants. Which I think means I’ve come a long way.
P.S. Speaking of writing and art and striving to succeed and failure and the desperate desire to DO something awesome, blogger Lynn Chen’s posts about getting rejected and then singing at the top of her lungs on the way home from the studio made me feel better today. And she’s currently trying to help raise money for a project called The Man’s Guide to Love. Which looks very cool. Her husband was involved in starting it, and both of them will be featured in the movie they’re trying to get made. This is their dream. Maybe we can help them out by donating or spreading the word. Click here!
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