Type in the word rejection into any search engine and you’ll probably get the images of writers and actors. Yes, it took me exactly three days of blogging to bring up rejection. I’m a poet, what did you expect? Just as my students don’t believe that writing can be a lonely profession, they often don’t believe in rejection. Apparently, when you are standing up in front of a classroom “teaching” you’ve gotten there, at least in their eyes, unscathed—you’ve never heard the word “no”, everything you’ve written has floated from your “send” button onto a printed page in some magazine (that everyone reads).
I don’t like receiving rejections but they do humanize, everyone has been there. I have been rejected by magazines, journals, and contests many times this year (and I still have a chance of a few more before the New Year). Once I got rejected within 24 hours of submitting my work (ouch). I think successes are not always as memorable as the disappointments. My optimistic friends don’t believe this—but for me, it’s true. I remember being a finalist for a book contest—it was me and two other folks whittled down from a couple hundred manuscripts. I didn’t win—and this wasn’t the first time. My friends who are actors remember losing every job that they really wanted, even years later. There are some things the mind refuses to let go of.
I’ve heard these mythic stories about Sylvia Plath, Gertrude Stein and E.E. Cummings being rejected. How they eventually published their own work or stuck to it long enough for someone to recognize their brilliance. I'm not sure this knowledge is going to make me feel better. I’m never going to write like Sylvia Plath or E.E. Cummings so these stories meant to soothe me don't always work. What does make me feel better is my 24-hour sulk. Whenever my friends or I get a rejection for a job or a publication that we really wanted, we’re allowed to sulk. We are allowed to be glum, to wear pants with an elastic waistband, to watch as much reality TV as we want (without judgment), to eat potato chips for breakfast if that is our choice. We get 24 hours to be listless and apathetic and discouraged. But then, we have to get back to work—we have to write or audition or teach or do something that propels us forward.
When I tell my students I have a folder full of rejection slips I’ve saved over the years they look worried like at some point I’m going to need a hug. But I’m not. I don’t need hugs but I do need my rejections because they’ve taught me my own brand of resilience. They’ve taught me to get up and keep getting up—every day, every week. To push aside the potato chips and head to the laptop. I’ve learned the obvious— that not everyone is going to like what I’ve put out into the world, but that’s okay as long as I like what I’m writing. These rejections have taught me that writing should give me pleasure more often than not, and if it doesn’t, something is very wrong. I’m allowed my disappointments but that shouldn’t stop me from being part of the conversation.
I’m okay with the road getting a little rough here and there. I’ll wrap my rejections around me like a shawl, hunch my back against the chill and keep going.