Monday, June 15, 2015

Musings on Rejection and Dejection or Drejection



I'm a week and a half away from leaving for three weeks, and I feel as if I'm wandering around in circles. I'm not complaining. I just don't know what to do first. My legs are leaden and my head filled with cotton. I feel strangely dejected despite all the good fortune coming my way.

I pulled a card out of my Poet Tarot deck this morning to see what I had in store this week. I got the Five of Mentors. I consulted the guidebook and learned that key phrases for this card are: disagreement within creative groups, being flexible in my artistic vision, choosing battles wisely.

Here's my advice to you, if you're a writer. Submit your work widely and then chill out. Chill out when you get rejections because you'll probably get a lot. For every ten things I've sent out over the years, I get about eight or nine rejections. Years ago, a literary agent sent a manuscript back to me with the words too sad written on the cover sheet. That was it. Sometimes rejections are wildly entertaining, like the one I got over the weekend from a literary journal named after a body of land with some amount of water around it. This is what it said:

Dear Elizabeth, 

Thank you for sending your work. Unfortunately, "Dreaming of Sex During Acupuncture" is not for us. Good luck with your writing and thank you for your interest in [name of journal]

Sincerely, 
the editors 

Doesn't that tickle you? I imagine you're wondering about the title of the piece I sent in, and hopefully you'll read the whole thing one day because I'm sending it back out. I'll keep you posted.




While vacuuming my car this morning, I pulled Frank O'Hara's little Lunch Poems out of the door pocket and opened it up, even as I scraped the dead leaves and grit from the floor. My heart is in my pocket, I read from the poem A Step Away from Them. How perfect is that? My other advice to writers is to read all the time and stash small poetry books in weird places.


Have I told you about my obsession with the Annunciation? Given my estrangement from the Roman Catholic faith, I'm not sure why I find it so compelling, but there's something about a big old angel leaning down to softly tell a virginal woman that she'll be carrying the son of God that knocks me flat. There's all this grace inherent in the gesture, I think. My favorite painting is Fra Angelico's Annunciation, and after visiting Italy for the second time and seeing it, after which I had a disturbing encounter with an epileptic young woman, its significance became all the greater. You honestly can't make that shit up, and I didn't. I did write an essay, though, that was accepted for publication by Slow Trains years and years ago. It was rejected at least five times before being accepted. You can read it if you like.

Anyhoo.



Mary Szybist wrote an entire book of poems about the Annunciation. It's called Incarnadine. Here's one of the poems:

Annunciation Overheard from the Kitchen

I could hear them from the kitchen, speaking as if
something important had happened.

I was washing the pears in cool water, cutting the bruises from them.
From my place at the sink, I could hear

a jet buzz hazily overhead, a vacuum
start up next door, the click,
click between shots.

"Mary, step back from the camera."

There was a softness to his voice
but no fondness, no hurry in it.

There were faint sounds
like walnuts being dropped by crows onto the street,
almost a brush
of windchime from the porch -----

Windows around me everywhere half-open ----

My skin alive with the pitch.

Mary Szybist



Maybe I'm weird, but that just blows my tiny little mother mind.™

30 comments:

  1. Perhaps apropos of nothing, one of my favorite quotes (and I have no idea whom to attribute it to) is, "Italians do not believe in God. But they believe in His Mother."
    I have reached a point in my life where I do not care one bit if I'm ever legitimately published. Is that sad? But I will tell you this- I am certain that the world is waiting patiently for your words. And that it will happen.

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    1. Oh, I love that quote. As a half-Italian who very much identifies with being Italian (I guess one has to qualify these things these days!), I don't really believe in God other than some Great Mother. And I know you don't care about being published, but your words reach so many people and I know for a fact that we are enriched by them.

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  2. Thank you for this, always a good reminder. My friend who is the same age as me and already has her PhD in English told me recently she has been rejected hundreds of times. She said every time she gets a new rejection letter she goes out in the yard and tears down a tree branch and beats the shit out the air for a few minutes and then she feels better. I've only sent out a few things that have all been denied but I'll keep at it. I'm going to google Poet Tarot cards now. Ha!

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    1. I love that image of your fancy PhD friend beating the heck out of the air. Honestly, I don't care anymore when I'm not accepted for publication. I think my dream of having a real book in my hands that I've written might come true, but if it doesn't, I've had this incredible platform and community to share my life and ideas and stories!

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  3. Your writing is exquisite. That story of you in Italy. Wow, just wow. I hope you feel better really soon.

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  4. Wonderful post, Elizabeth. I share your sentiments. I tell myself every time a rejection comes my way, as you say at least nine out of ten come that way, I remember the subjectivity of it all. One person might hate our stuff, another will love it and so we go on, Lazarus like overtime whenever we fall into that pit of despair.

    I reckon that visitation, the one leading to an immaculate conception remains one of the great stories of all time. I always fancied the Holy ghost in the form of a tongue of flames atop one's head, a great sign that something good is happening inside or about to happen.

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    1. OOOOOO-- I love that tongue of flames image. It's all that crazy stuff in the Bible -- the tongues of flame, the burning bushes, the sheep dashed to bits off of cliffs, the crazy prophets in the desert -- that attracts me. Have you ever read Jim Crace's novel Quarantine?

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  5. I love this.
    Recently,I had a lot of submissions out--maybe 2 pieces to about 40 places. (I send out in batches of 20.) I've had quite a few things published this last year, but these last two pieces have not yet found a home. However, almost every rejection this time has been personal and complimentary and encouraged me to submit something else. It's a weird business.

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    1. It sure is weird, and you've always been so good about submitting. I get so lazy sometimes. Remember our Reading Whore days with Barbara?

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  6. Isn't it strange, in our recovering Catholic phases, that such an "event" as the Annunciation can reverberate so differently in each person's soul. I find that particular piece of Catholic HIS-story to be the ultimate expression of the deeply rooted misogyny of the Catholic Church. I remember the nun who was breathlessly telling us that story instructing us that "Mary said YES! She said "YES" to God!!" It was the supreme act of obedience, a no choice option for a life, one that imprinted itself deeply into my psyche. Mary, the perfect Catholic woman: a mother, unquestionably obedient to authority, who never has sex. Something unattainable for all the rest of womankind, for eternity. Yeah...I'm not bitter... ;)

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    1. I have to admit to feeling discomfitted all day thinking about this comment. It's certainly an entirely different interpretation of the Annunciation, and I can totally agree with it, at least on a practical, literal level. There's a part of me, though, that is drawn to what might be asexual about it -- for instance, I had no idea for the longest time that the angel was a "male" --

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    1. Yes, Allison! Get your stuff out there!

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  8. This is fantastic and uplifting advice to writers, from a writer I so admire, and I will take it to heart. One of the rejections I got for Angel Food said "I came really close to going with this, but I decided not to." I think it was supposed to be encouraging.

    I often feel kinda down before events that are supposed to be happy, too. Either down or totally flat. Hopefully you are getting that out now so that you can find peace during your residency.

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    1. Thank YOU for that last paragraph. I think you are exactly right. And as far as "encouraging" rejections, I think we should compile a good list of them. They're actually pretty hilarious once you get over the smack.

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  9. Thank you for the reminder about rejection. I don't take it well, and I haven't submitted anything. I'm impressed by your courage - and here you are, going to Hedgebrook because you applied! Your way works!
    Let's chat about your flight arrival time when you have a moment. XO

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    1. What the what? You haven't submitted anything? Then again, I know your perfectionism. DO IT.

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  10. I think you are feeling dejected because you are in limbo, you're waiting to jump, and once you get to Hedgebrook, you'll be able to immerse yourself in a world you can only anticipate right now. It's going to be great, but it might also be lonely at moments, which is just part of it. I am so thrilled you are getting a chance to fully be the writer you are, the poet and wild woman and sensualist and agitator and mother and all the strands of identity that make your writing so rich. I can hardly wait till I hold your book IN MY HANDS. It will happen. Love.

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    1. I think I'm going to call you the modern-day Oracle of Delphi although you might be a shaman or just the wise person who says the exact right thing. THANK YOU.

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  11. I'm so glad you posted your story, Annunciation. It's remarkable. I'm listening to Helen Macdonald's book, H is for Hawks, now and so everything I see or hear seems somehow related. After reading Annunciation, I'm thinking maybe God is a goshawk, (or maybe the angels are goshawks), only instead of swooping off with things we want, they drop hard situations right on us, the mysterious terrifying package inescapable, both curse and blessing.

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    1. I keep seeing that book at the bookstore or floating around on my Amazon page. Do I need to read it? I love what you've said here about God as a goshawk --

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  12. I'm hoping that rejection gets easier after the first yes. I'm still waiting for that first one.

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  13. Love the poem! God knows rejection goes with the territory. Back when I used to submit stuff to literary journals -- before I essentially said "fuck it" and just started keeping a blog -- I was always gratified when something got accepted after multiple rejections. (And what I write now isn't the least bit literary. I don't know what to say about that. Ha!)

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    1. It's so true that the immediate blogging reception is powerful and affirming -- not to mention the friendships made!

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  14. Your "Anywho" gave me a smile today. And considering I am really pissy that I saying something.

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    1. I'm glad to give you a smile, Birdie!

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  15. I am at a cafe getting a Wi-Fi hit, and your blog was the first thing I checked in on. This post, especially, speaks to me in all ways. Love the Annunciation, too. No, you can't make that shit up.

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    1. I always love your words and comments, Carrie. One of these days we're going to drink a beer together and have a loooooooooong talk. I just know it.

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