Rejections, Insults, and Perspective


It’s 7:30 on Sunday morning. I did not sleep well — took a long time falling to sleep, then was up around 3:30, which is when I checked my phone and saw the rejection email from an editor I’d been really, really hoping would select the poem I’d submitted for a weekly series where poets respond to current news stories.

I must have gotten back to sleep — vivid dreams — and before I knew it, Chalupa started stirring sometime after 6:00am, and I woke up drenched in sweat. Night sweats have always been a thing for me but have gotten much more intense as I walk deeper into my 40s. So hi, I’m up. Up with coffee, of course. I took Chalupa downstairs to relieve herself after a bout of record-setting bulldog stubborness at the top of the stairs, then gave her breakfast, played with her mangled crocodile for a few minutes, and gave her a lovely shoulder massage until she was ready to calm down and sleep some more.

I’ve submitted more work in the last week than in a long time, and it’s such a funny cycle: I write, tinker a little, send with a kiss and a wish, wait, know that the odds are not in my favor, and then eventually get the email saying, “Thanks, but.” It doesn’t keep me from continuing (to write, tinker, send, etc.), but that’s not to say I don’t have a truncated trip through the stages of grief every time. This one hit a little harder, which tells me the poem itself is more personal. I will probably share it here soon.

Something Mani shared with me yesterday — she was reading a mental health-related piece about why words matter, especially the words practitioners of all kinds use — really struck me: One negative statement or insult has the same impact as 100 positive statements of compliments. Said another way, it takes 100 positive things to cancel the impact on a person of a single negative one. My mind went in so many directions at once upon hearing this. I thought of children, all children really but particularly those at higher risk to be bullied, teased, ostracized, and underestimated based solely on factors like race, gender expression, or a disability.

I also thought of creativity — from writing to art-making — and the lasting damage of that one teacher who told you you should quit, or you’d never be that good, or you didn’t have what it takes. I thought about the folks who write with me, and why my groups aren’t focused on being better writers per se. When you were diminished as a child, it can take a lot of practice and time and affirmation to slowly begin to believe, “I can.”

The latest rejection stings. It pisses me off for a minute. But it’s not an insult. It’s just a person with his own subjectivity, his own sense of what the readers of his magazine prefer, and surely his own unconscious filters and biases, too, making choices about what to publish. It doesn’t hurt me, and it won’t scar me unless I let it. But if I never shared my work anywhere where it was met with appreciation, recognition in the form of resonance and human connection, and kindness, I think it would be a hell of a lot harder to keep going.

Yesterday, a participant in my most recent 2-week writing group shared this:

Writing with you these past two weeks did get me unstuck. It was hard and didn’t always feel comfortable with what my words revealed, but now I can make words with my voice and camera again. Much self-knowledge gained. Thank you.

This woman is a phenomenally talented photographer and a deeply beautiful writer. But she had been stuck. Her word, along with so much emotion, had gotten lodged inside of her body. And the writing, the prompts, the safe space for sharing where she knew she wouldn’t be insulted or rejected be it for the quality or the content of her words, all allowed her to begin to feel herself again.

This to me is of far greater importance than getting published in the New York Times, the Atlantic, and so on. Don’t get me wrong — reaching more people with my words has always been and remains an ever-growing dream of mine. It’s that this dream doesn’t overpower the other one, which is to encourage people to trust themselves through practice, to make room for being imperfect, and to do this right alongside every person I’m lucky enough to write with.

I suppose it’s called perspective.

I woke up after that less-than-stellar night’s sleep feeling some urgency. Urgency to write, perhaps to assemble my next collection of poems, which I might even submit to a literary contest if I can pull it together in time, and well. We’ll see. For now, I come here. Because here is a place to land, a way to connect, and 20 minutes I’ll never regret.

Now I’m going to pour a second cup. If you want homework: Think of one negative statement or insult you’ve carried. Write it down on a piece of paper. Then get a second piece of paper, and write 100 positive statements or compliments. If you can’t think of that many, it’s fine. Just start.

Goethe’s oft-quoted words seem like a fitting way to end: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Celebrating 10 Years of Blogging with a Gift for YOU

schwartz

Ten years ago tomorrow, on January 7, 2007, I wrote these words on a brand-new blog:

But missing the mark – now this was a concept I could get my head around. Forgiving, roomy. With implications of more chances. You know, nobody’s perfect. Better yet, imperfection is where all the juice is. We do our best, we practice, we try stuff, we throw spaghetti at the wall and we skin knees and we get hurt and we learn in ways that are sometimes grueling and other times graceful – about relationships, about love, about work, about pretty much everything. In all that trying, in the practice, comes the learning and the growing that we’re here to do. And in the process, maybe the bullseye itself isn’t “getting” the thing we’ve been aiming at but rather hitting on some increased ability to be patient and kind to ourselves. (Read more

Ten years!!

To celebrate a decade of writing online and all of the real-life friendships and connections it has led to and continues to foster, I’m offering you a spot in Imperfect Offerings, my next two-week writing group (January 9-20), for whatever amount you can and want to pay.

This offer is good through Sunday night, January 8 (which also happens to be David Bowie’s birthday — may he rest in peace and rise like Lazarus — and I know this because a) we are both Capricorns and b) I loved him so much when I was young that I cried on his birthday when we couldn’t be together).

I’ll be welcoming you into our secret Facebook space on Sunday. When you get to PayPal, choose the “Send Money” option and simply put in the amount you’d like to pay and my email address: jenarschwartz (at) gmail (dot) com.


Read on for more about the blogaversary, “just” writing, and other musings.

* * * * *

In the beginning, this blog was called Bullseye, Baby! and it was, indeed, my “place to practice.” That was the actual tagline. I had resolved to write without fussing over (i.e. editing to death) my posts, to show up and see what happened and to share. Mind you, I was essentially sharing with my sister, who for the first 11 months or so was my only reader.

But I missed writing and I missed myself and damnit, I was determined. It wasn’t about having an audience or even good writing; it was about writing… anything. I had two kids four and under at the time, and very few people in my life even knew I wrote at all.

I signed up that winter for a 15-week writing class called Women Writing for (a) Change, led by wonderful teacher in Vermont, Sarah Bartlett. It was the combination of giving myself the gift of these various support structures — the social and “real” support of the class, and the virtual support of the blog — that jump-started what has grown, over the course of the last decade (in fits and starts and with so many then-unimaginable back roads and detours), into my life and my livelihood.

I believe that that beginning set my whole life-as-I-know-it-today into motion. It’s kind of mind-blowing, to be honest.

* * * * *

The image above is from one of my favorite children’s books, called Before You Were Born by Howard Schwartz (no relation) and illustrated by Kristina Swarner. It shows an angel reading from the Book of Secrets — and will be among the 10 all-new prompts in my next two-week online writing group, Imperfect Offerings.

The name of this first group of 2017 is in homage to Leonard Cohen, whose “forget your perfect offering” describes so well what we do in these groups — we forget to worry about being perfect, or even good. We dip into the books of secrets, each prompt something like a portal to things inside of us maybe we forgot were there.

This practice is so freeing, and we do it together in a space where nobody gets to be wrong, and everyone is encouraged to show up and “just” write.That little word, though, “just,” implies that this is no big deal. And it’s a kind of riddle, isn’t it?

On the one hand, that’s exactly the point — it is no big deal! What you write in these groups ultimately does not matter! The point is to sit your ass down for ten minutes at a pop and “just” write, to weaken your inner critic and shore up your ability to keep your hand moving. On the other hand, it totally matters. It matters because it’s the foundation for so much else.

I was chatting the other night with a single mama who is currently holding down three jobs. THREE JOBS. Can she write for 10 minutes a day? Yes. Will she? Only if she commits to it. Is it worth it? Well, that’s subjective. But from where I sit, 10 minutes is more than not 10 minutes. In fact, a few paragraphs a day over time adds up to many pages, pages that would not exist but for the act of “just” writing.

For the most part, my freewrites — which I do right alongside you in the group — don’t usually interconnect; they are one-offs, unrelated to any big goal or longer work. Maybe you’ve read this quote from Louis L’Amour before, but it bears sharing again: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

* * * * *

Why bother with prompts and a group, when you could sit down and write morning pages or in your journal?

Here’s what my friend Katrina Kenison said after she participated in one of my two-week groups:

“Never have I felt so befriended: by the page, by a group of fellow writers, by a teacher and coach. Jena provides a lovely mixture of inspiration, invitation, and validation. And then she throws in something else, something wonderful and ineffable which I can only describe as magic. For how else could a bunch of strangers become so intimate so quickly? Within this sacred circle, we came to trust not only one another, but also our own voices, our process, and most of all, the value of sharing our stories.”  

* * * * *

If you keep meaning to make time to write (but don’t), write but feel uninspired or lonely, or have been thinking about trying out a writing group but feel shy, please join me for these two weeks of practice. The pay-what-you-can offer will go to the first 10 people who sign up. I hope one of them is you!

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” — Goethe