It was pitch black, heavy droplets pounding into the roof of our minivan, kids squabbling in the back over what takeaway dinner they wanted us to buy for them. I had just completely misjudged the last step off the porch of our friends’ cosy home in the hills and landed heavily on my right knee and hand, trying to protect Ivy’s head from hitting the concrete. She was remarkably unfazed by the whole ‘falling to our death’ experience. Blood was dripping into my sock and boot and I was haphazardly trying to apply band-aids to wounds. When I finally sat back, I clicked on my phone in the dark and found the message.
“Thank you for your submission…however, after careful review, I’m sorry to say this piece isn’t a good fit for the unique needs of our website at this time.”
Tears blurred the rest of the words and I quickly shut the screen down. After a few short and snappish responses to Dave, he wondered aloud at my grumpy demeanour and I mumbled the news to him.
“Oh.” He said. “… isn’t that just the reality of being a writer?”
It wasn’t quite the empathetic response I had been hoping for.
Rejection. The sting of it is surprising but familiar. We all feel it in some capacity throughout our existence, yet I don’t think one can ever become quite inoculated to the physical and emotional response it generates. You can ‘know’ the truth that not everyone will resonate with your work or that not every piece you write will receive a positive reception, but the experience of it… that is something different.
It was my first real attempt at submitting a piece for the ‘publish’ button of somebody else. I secretly hoped that I would be the exception to the rule, the one that didn’t have to learn by failing, but would dazzle editors with my arrangement of sentences. It seems that isn’t the way my story is to be written.
In Grade 8 we welcomed a new English teacher to the school. She had a wispy side ponytail, an enigmatic smile and a look that could silence the room in seconds. She was a force to be reckoned with, possessing a mysterious aura of authority and wisdom. When I first submitted an essay to her, I expected her to respond with the admiration that my previous teachers had extended. She barely glanced at me and handed back the paper, a large, red ‘B+’ scrawled at the top. I was horrified… and upset. No other teacher had marked me as harshly before. Eventually, after the anger subsided and the feedback seeped in, I began to hone my craft and it became a challenge to impress her. As we journeyed through school, I studiously implemented her advice and still remember at the end of Year 12, receiving one of many practice essays on Night by Elie Wiesel to discover ‘A++’ inscribed in bold. I felt almost weightless with the achievement.
It is tempting just to skip to the end of the story. To pretend that I was just always naturally ‘gifted’ and to blur the lines that cover the failures, the missteps, the rejections. But that isn’t the path of wonder, of joy or depth.
Since the moment of discovery I have been reluctant to sit facing the screen again. My confidence seemed only as good as my last piece, hanging on the judgement calls of others. Thoughts of writing were met with a pang of doubt and I would question whether I really had anything of worth to say.
Poetry is therapy. I’m beginning to learn that swirls of emotion can be transformed as I put fineliner to paper, scrawling out the emotions that are more elusive in prose or hidden behind the subtle machinations of ego.
‘Why did I even bother?’
Steps need to be relearned
‘Why wasn’t it enough?’
‘Why aren’t I enough?’
Am I my work?
My words, the cadence of my sentences?
Where is the ‘self’ located?
If I pour heart, emotion and soul
Into letters and spaces
Does that become the
I step back
But lean in again
To be is to
Creating anything involves risk and vulnerability. It is not the ‘safe’ option. And yet it is the path of learning and redemption, of connection and meaning. The thought that I’ll definitely experience the warm wash of humiliation and rejection again is mostly terrifying, but the little glimmer in the corner beckons me anyway. At the very least, these experiences will provide me with more poetry!
As for the third humiliating experience – let’s just say black doors and lights out don’t make a good combination when you are in a hurry to get to the bathroom. The reverberating sound of my face connecting with the hard surface seemed to echo throughout the entire house. Although there is a silver lining – after the scarlet waterworks from my protesting nose subsided, I realised that I could almost pass for Angelina Jolie… on one side of my lips at least! Dave heroically waited until I sheepishly grinned to let his laughter ring out. (I would not have been so self-controlled, I fear…)
In the midst of all this drama, there have (thankfully) been many, many wonderful experiences to celebrate and enjoy! Lest you think I insist on only focusing on the bad, here are some of the good moments: