“Though we’re passing on this one, we really appreciate your trusting us with your work.”
I know it shouldn’t get to me, but it does. I know it doesn’t matter, but tonight it does. I know getting work published is insanely subjective and stupidly competitive — and that I’m being irrationally ridiculous to feel so pissed and discouraged. I know that getting published does not make life magically different or better.
I know you win some, you lose some. I know all the famous writers who plastered their walls with letters from “appreciative” editors and indifferent editors and slush-pile unpaid intern editors.
Come to think of it, I was an unpaid intern once, at a literary journal in Union Square called Parnassus. I wonder if I was given the power to reject anyone. I know walking to town with my kid on a sunny Friday afternoon brings me joy. I know reading poem after poem by people who are writing their hearts out feels as trippy and wondrous and privileged as I imagine moonwalking would–buoyant, ethereal, and solid in our landing.
I know we’re all putting on our oxygen masks every day. We’re breathing molecules from other hemispheres on this itty-bitty planet. I know I’m eating Annie’s mac & cheese with a can of tuna mixed in for dinner, and that I get to go put clean sheets on my bed after this and remember childbirth yes, like it was yesterday, and that there is so much new grey in my hair, especially around my temples, and some days it’s all I can do not to smoke ’em if you got ’em but I don’t got ’em because it’s rather nice, this breathing situation without tanks or masks or other such appendages. I know this will blow over, over and out, mark my words and Roger that, it doesn’t matter.
It does not matter.
But just for a minute it did, it does, and I need to allow myself this moment. This anger.
The thing is, I’ve never fit with the establishment — whatever that may mean. I got an MFA but then became a Hillel director, then a life coach and a career counselor. I got married and had babies and wondered for years: Am I still a writer if I’m not actually writing? I knew the answer was yes; it felt similar to a non-practicing Jew still being Jewish. But that “yes” didn’t stop me from wondering and wanting so much to not only know I was a writer, but to interface with the world as a writer. To reach people with my words. To connect deeply through my writing. This was my dream, and it still is.
I remember when Aviva was a baby and I’d go out alone, just to be with myself. I always brought a journal, and I’d sit by the lake or in a coffeeshop and write. I wrote fundraising appeal letters and bylaws and student group descriptions and eventually brochure and website copy for my fledgling business. But I still wasn’t a writer who was writing; I was writer who was trying to make a living doing other things that used other skills, and writing was a skill but in that context, not a soul.
Blogging started to change all of that, and a couple of times lately in conversations with people in my writing groups, the topic of practice has come up. Practice not only in the sense of writing practice, but the parallel practice of “putting it out there.” Of not knowing whether or where or with whom or how your words will land. Of learning not to look at, or at least not get snagged by, “seen by” stats or likes or comments as a measure of your writing’s value. Or your own value. Of knowing that silence does not equal judgment. Silence could equal busy people caught up in their own lives and stories and minds and responsibilities; silence could equal awe; silence could equal nobody saw. Silence does not matter. Silence is a gift. It gives us back ourselves.
When faced with rejection, with silence, I get to sit here with myself. At the kitchen table where I so often ramble and write. At the juncture between an inhale and an exhale, that plateau where I can choose to hold my breath in and in and in — now it becomes a game, like when we were kids — until I can’t hold it any longer and I allow the release through my nostrils. It’s then that some tears come, as if on cue.
There is room for you, the breath seems to be saying to the tears. There is room for rejection. There is room for anger. There is room for appreciation. There is room for resilience and rage and connection and moonwalking and silence. There is room for change. The only thing there isn’t room for at the inn is shame. We’ve had enough of that, haven’t we?
“We encourage you to submit your work again.”
I think I may, I think I might, I think I might not, I think for tonight it really doesn’t matter. I think I am lucky to be alive, full belly and rip-roaring heart and green speckled eyes and a wife who loves me and gorgeous growing-up kids and people who trust me with their stories.
There’s a reason I’m not in the business of evaluating people’s words. We are surrounded by evaluative measures and systems; those are not hard to come by. What’s hard to come by is genuine, unconditional, non-competitive encouragement. So that’s what I do now, not only for myself but as a job. A job I made up out of the blue! Can you believe that is even possible? I give other people the very thing I want to receive. I teach what I have to learn, even though I really don’t think of what I do as teaching. This was my dream, and it still is. And it’s changing and evolving and unfolding. It’s scary and it’s beautiful and it’s unpredictable and, as my accountant reminded me, being self-employed can make us become quite religious.
Anyway. For tonight, I am not encouraged, but I will keep submitting — if not my poems, then my ego.
I submit and surrender to life as I know it, with all the trust in the world that saving one life is like saving the whole world, and not knowing — never knowing — where or whether or with whom these words will land.
If you’ve read this, thank you. For hanging in there with me and my ups and downs and rants and raves. It’s good for me to let this shit out. And it’s also good to hit “publish” and unplug for 24 hours, which is what I’m about to do.
Besides, Madonna once said, “Rejection is the greatest aphrodisiac.” I’m not taking her word for it though; better go find out for myself.
Shabbat Shalom, my friends.