Sunday, September 17, 2017

Rejection 15



I feel one season ending and another beginning, and I'm not talking about the summer to autumn transition. I have spent the year writing hard things that I needed to examine and release from my body. I took the step to send those words out into the world to see if they might get accepted for publication somewhere.

So far, they have been rejected by each place I have sent them. I have been upbeat about the rejections. In some ways, I have been relieved that they haven't been published. I have done the work and been accountable by submitting them, but as time passes, I understand that this particular season of writing and its results are primarily for me and my healing. I mustered a lot of courage to consider writing the words and the considerable more by sending out any of this work. I sent it all out. That in itself is a victory.

This particular rejection from Full Grown People stings more than the others. I have set my sights on getting published there. It's a personal goal, and so to learn that the editor is “taking a pass” on this essay feels more personal. I know it's absolutely not personal, but right now if feels like it. I feel a bit discouraged.

Three hundred rejections feels like A LOT of rejections. I know what 15 rejections feel like. How will 300 feel? It's also an incredible amount of writing.

I keep wondering, what do I have to say that will get accepted at this site? I feel emptied of things to say. This is actually a good thing. It means I've written myself dry. It's time to set down the submission writing and pick up the novel writing. I am learning how this writing life ebbs and flows for me: devote time, energy, and mental space to a project for awhile, feel its natural ending approach, pick up something else, repeat. I need the cycle to do its work, so I can be ready for the next thing.

By calling the submission season closed, I won't be distracted as I enter the novel writing season. That particular season closed last year when I'd worn myself out amassing 80,000 words and began writing draft two. I was spent. I needed time to rest, recuperate, and refuel. Writing essays refueled me. They moved things around in my mental attic space. Now there is room for me to consider the lives of my characters more attentively.

I'm ready to dive back into story telling. Acknowledging the sting of this rejection helps. I trust that I'll have other things to say later that will be considered publishable. I am not there yet. But I'll get there, and I'll be a better writer for all effort.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Dream Big, Live Small

I've been contemplating a new way to live my life. It's an integration of all the heart and soul work I've been doing over the past few years. I have learned a few truths:
  • Difficult circumstances are temporary states.

  • You learn what you're made of during said difficult circumstances.

  • The bad stuff has a unique set of lessons to teach that cannot be accessed any other way.

  • Debt stinks and drains. 

  • Life doesn't have to be on hold whilst paying down said debt.

  • Small gestures of kindness make a big difference. 

  • Goals create structure.

  • Writing is my world.

  • Dreaming is free.

Basically, I have considered these nine truisms for me and come up with this: 

I am happier than I have ever been because I sense my purpose and am devoted to that pursuit. I am letting go of things—thought patterns and old habits—that no longer serve me. As I let go of the things that don't work, I'm picking up others—mostly relationships—that nurture me and allow me to nourish in return. I have learned the value of being on the receiving end of the giving equation, and have grown in my ability to accept help.

I have big dreams: travel the world with myself, my daughter, and with friends; write and submit essays, short stories, books; get published. I am unconcerned with name or brand recognition, big publishing houses, or big book advances. Sure, in my fantasies, those things will come. But in my real life, I want to live a small life where my love, smiles, and contributions make a big difference in the corner of the world I occupy.

This smallness is not the same kind that author and lecturer, Marianne Williamson, references in this, my favorite quote:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It's not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I am no longer playing small as I have done in decades past. There was a time when I identified with this deepest fear of being powerful beyond measure. I did play small. It fit within others' expectations of me. No more! The smallness I am referring to now is the confidence that the extra cans of soup and green beans I pick up as I grocery shop will be a helpful donation to the pantry at church. That the small donation I sent to a non-profit after the rally trauma in Charlottesville is a worthy contribution. Before my family was the recipient of an anonymous giver's small gifts during our stints of unemployment, I didn't believe that small gifts could make a difference. I know they do now. And I am committed to giving of myself in common, ordinary, small ways knowing that they actually do make a difference. 
 
I received the most stunning thank you letter this week from the organization I referenced above. It's opening paragraph blew me away and reminded me that this sort of living small is the right fit for me:

If you had just thought of our students, of Charlottesville, we would have appreciated it. If you'd just sent a message of support and strength, we would have been moved. But you sent us a gift, made a monetary investment in ensuring the future of Jewish life at the University of Virginia, and for that, we are humbled and grateful...Your gift...was part of that support. And though healing doesn't happen in an instant, your gift makes an actual difference in the strength of community we will continue to nurture and sustain here in Charlottesville.(I would have removed the justs, but that's a different blog post.)

This was a humbling letter to receive because a. I gave what I could-- a mere $10, and b. writing letters is what I do in my day job. I want the letters I write to take donors' breaths away like this one took mine.

Every line of Williamson's quote is sterling, but I am especially drawn to these words: “And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I am learning that what is written here at 300 rejections plays into this idea. I admit my fears and struggles, and it creates space for others to acknowledge their own. It is humbling and extraordinary every time I ponder it. Living like this sets me up to show up, do the work, and wait with anticipation for what's to come. To think, once this way of living terrified me. Now it's pure exhilaration. I know there's nothing to fear.

This girl is learning how to dream big behind the wheel of a Tesla

“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.” ―William Martin



Thursday, September 7, 2017

Rejections 10-14

Rejection 10 arrived in my email on a sunny day. My friend was driving, our children were in the backseat, and we'd spent a lovely mid-day with a mutual friend. I checked my email and found this:



Could the day get any better?!?!

When I'd submitted the essay online, the publication provided a check box to request feedback. It wasn't guaranteed, but it was a possibility. I absolutely checked the box. Abbey, the editor, gave me a gift. She called my piece "interesting" and wished me luck in "placing this piece elsewhere." I am so glad I took the risk to put this piece out in the world. I would much rather it be rejected and learn that it was deemed interesting than to choose not to submit it and always wonder how it rated.

This isn't the last time I'm going to submit this work. I've got a few more rejections in me before I hang up this particular piece's towel.

I wrote recently about going through old piles of writing from as far back as fourth or fifth grade. In that stack, I was reminded that long before I created the 300 rejections blog, I'd slowly been writing and submitting work. I also applied for a creative arts grant for artists who are raising children. As I put together my application, I remembered other work I had submitted that was not published.

Since I'm the Chief Executive Officer of 300 rejections, I get to make up the rules as I go, so I am retroactively counting these other rejections:

Rejection 11Over the Shoulder,” Spoonfuls of Stories with Cheerios, children's story contest 2009

Rejection 12 Real Simple Essay Contest “What was the most important day of your life?” 2010

Rejection 13 From Skinny Nanny to Well-Rounded Mama: A Journey to Acceptance,” Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine 2013

Rejection 14 Birthing the Mother Writer,” Literary Mama 2014

So there we have it. I have been submitting work longer than even I remembered. I am so grateful for the exercise of preparing materials for the grant. I'm already a winner with the confidence I gained in the process.

Rejections to go: 285

What in the world will be written in the next 285 submissions? It's so exciting to think about. Thanks so much for going on this journey with me. 
 







 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Rejection 9

Last night I received another rejection email. Narrative does a great job of letting a writer know that her work hasn't been selected:

Thank you for entering “The Ring” in our Spring Story Contest. We were grateful for the opportunity to read and consider your work, and we regret that your entry was not one of our winners or finalists this time.

We continue to look for engaging new works to publish, and we hope you will keep
Narrative in mind for your writing in the future.

Again, thank you for your entry, and please accept our kind wishes.

Sincerely,

The Editors 
 
Narrative is a responsive publication, which is a much-appreciated-trait by writers. But it also charges $25 per submission. The cost finances the prize money, which is great, but it also adds up, so I'm going to take a break from submitting work there. I have other work under consideration at other publications, so I have a few more opportunities for publication or to add to the rejection list. Of course, I will keep 300 rejections updated.

I will have blogged twice in the month of August. It's been a month with Charlottesville and Hurricane Harvey. I needed the quiet to ponder all the feelings that these events churned in me. Plus, nothing I had to say seemed to hold enough importance in light of these events. I don't want to be tone deaf, so I opted for some reflection time. 

August has also become a month of grief anniversaries, and I needed time to chew on these. I lost my grandmothers in the same week of August a few years apart. My marriage heaved its last breath in August. Then I had a health scare. This time last year, my Nissan Pathfinder began a four-month long repair escapade that set me back thousands of dollars when those dollars were already scarce.

I've been honoring my word of the year—Quiet—by pondering all of these things away from my blog. What I have marveled at in all this quiet contemplation is how very different I feel two years after I started writing with honesty and vulnerability about these events. I am strong and resilient. I have rested and no longer feel the soul-sucking exhaustion that had seeped deep into my bones. The practices of observing rather than reacting, living in the moment, letting the future greet me as the days peel away have had their way with me. I not only feel different, I am different. I have done the hard work that makes living easier even while life remains messy, complicated, and rocky. I'm not afraid of life's ups and downs like I was in the past. I'm also not afraid of the unknown—on a regular basis. That doesn't mean that I don't stumble into momentary freak outs when I have little grasp of what's to come. When those moments strike, I yoga breathe and calm my fears with mantras that soothe and smooth out my wrinkled brow.

Despite all of this, I have been writing. I've picked my theme for this October's write31days series, and have written the first eight days' worth. I also prepared a grant application that supports creatives who are raising children. In answering the application questions, I was reminded that I have been working at this craft for a long time—even when I had a five-month-old baby, was nursing exclusively, and working full time. I broadened my definition of being published, and was happy to realize how many times my work has made it into print over the past decade. 
 
I look forward to hearing the decision of that award. I should know something by mid-to-late November. As far as waiting for decisions go, November is only a few calendar page flips away.
I have no idea how much I will write in September, but you can be assured you'll find my words here every day of October. I'd love to meet you back here then. Thank you for your kindness, generosity, and willingness to read my words.

PS: I also bought a clearance pair of "Old lady strappy/sassy" heels;


made this delicious pie twice and ate a bunch of it by myself, YUMMO;

Instituted a new afterschool responsibility program in my home with glowing, well-folded-towel results;


And got my first trim after the big chop in May.


A month of ups and downs. Exactly as life is designed to be.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Letter to my Younger Self

Dear Julie at 22,

I look at your sweet face, and wish I could have mothered you better then. I know I did my best, but young one, I've learned so much in the past twenty years. I know there is pain behind your smile—a mess of stuff you don't even understand yet. I remember your senior year of college. There was good stuff going on, but there was also so much confusion and fear. It paralyzed you. The world was wide open, but you couldn't see it for the depression and anxiety made more acute by the weight of the opinions and expectations of others.

Dressed for Homecoming Court - 1996


I shake my head at the depth of your suffering, especially knowing how it would plunge you even further in the decade to come. That's why I'm writing you now. I'm writing as an act of mothering us both. I am telling you now what I wish you could have known then. I am sending a lifeline to my younger self. It's a marker of how far we've come, precious.


I want you to know that that elusive love you were always on the search for from so many places—remember that? Well you found it, darling. Not in the people or places you wanted or expected, but, oh my goodness, you found it in abundance.


First, your heart broke. And not once, but over and over again. It had to. It was in those cracks and crevices that the joy and light seeped in. Your breaks made you fierce. You didn't shy away. You kept loving and hurting, growing and loving some more. In the process, you collected a series of mentors who showed you the ropes of a better way. They gave you words and tools and courage. These mentors formed the foundation of your tribe. Then a select few of your peers grew with you. They loved you even when you were a mess. And they kept loving you. Your tribe grew and so did you.


After a lot of years of contemplation and even more years of unproductive stewing, you hit your “enough is enough” point. You finally got tired of your story, so as you were famous for saying, you “girded up your loins” and got busy changing and improving your life. It was the hardest thing you'd ever done, but in the process, you figured out that the fearful stories you conjured in your mind were scarier than reality.


The damage had been done though. You were one parched plant. Your self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth were wilted. In the process of transplanting your life in a bigger pot with fresh, more fertile soil, you received unexpected showers in the form of kind words and affection from friends from your past. It took awhile for you to believe these men's versions of the woman they saw when they remembered you. It took courage for you to believe that good, kind, smart, funny, beautiful men could be attracted to you. They helped you grow into this new vision and version of yourself.


These friends helped you see how a different story about you could point you in a different direction as you rebuilt your life. They told you they were proud of you, believed in you, and held your proverbial hand until you were ready to let go. You were afraid to do it, but you'd done far scarier things before, so you stared down the fear of solitude and not knowing what came next. You beat out the fear.

And then with all this new-found energy and verve, you found comfort in your own skin. You owned your skinny body. You treasured all it had done to nurture and support and nourish your baby. You moved in new ways and watched your body transform into a strong, lean vessel able to carry you through life, unburdened and free. You felt something new. It was a sexiness that you knew had nothing to do with how you looked or who was looking at you. It was all about attitude, belief, vision, and loving life. You came to love yourself in ways you never had before. You trusted yourself. You became your best friend. You loved your daughter and your tribe with a ferocity you didn't recognize, but that you quickly adjusted to. You built boundaries to protect that beautiful, broken, mending heart of yours. SEXY.


You figured out the qualities you'd like to find in a man, and then you set aside the list, and got busy living. You don't worry about the details or logistics. You know if he comes your way it will be wonderful, and if he doesn't, life will still be glorious.


You have no idea what the future will bring, and for the very first time in your life, you are enthralled. You know that you have what you need to weather whatever storms, sunshine, and wind blows your way. You call yourself a writer and a mother—your two most important labels. You want to teach yoga, to use it as a tool to help other people heal. You dream of the trips you will take. Beyond those plans, you are staying open. To trust that you can handle whatever comes your way. You know you can handle it. You know that worry is pointless, and that living in the present is the best way to spend your days.


This, dear heart, is a true story.


I know you can't believe it yet. You are listening to Mariah Carey's Christmas album on repeat months before the holiday. It's the only thing that comforts you these days. It's okay. Keep listening.  Hang on, and believe me when I tell you it gets better. So, so much better. The pain and effort is worth it. Every single tear, hurt, misunderstanding, and doubt. It is all worth it.


Love,

Julie at 42

Spring Break - Washington State - 1997

Surprise Milestone

     I love surprises, and what I learned yesterday definitely was a surprise.
    Before the essay became Rejection 8, I read it to my counselor as proof that I'd taken her advice to write the “hard stuff” as a form of therapy. I had expected to read a few excerpts, but the more I read the better it felt to read this piece to the person who had been so instrumental to my healing and progress.
     Yesterday, I read her another piece I was preparing to submit. Within the framework of this essay I was able to discuss with her how the writing had helped me clarify my feelings about a situation with which I have been wrestling.
     We discussed Rejection 8 and how important it was for me to write those words. “I blacked out your name and have been sharing it with clients.”
     I paused, breathing in her words.
     “Thank you. This is fantastic! What an honor. My words are helping people. In this case, this is better than getting published.”
     My counselor reaffirmed the potency of my piece and how it's helping people understand their circumstances. I am living my dream. I have actually accomplished the hard work of transforming my pain into something bigger than the burden I carried for so long.
     I left the appointment and texted a friend. “My words are helping people.”
     My friend didn't exactly write, “Duh,” but I know that's what she meant. Instead she told me that when I blog, my words “spread farther than you realize.” She also informed me that she uses my writing in a college course she teaches.
     As I read her text, I felt waves of elation, humility, gratitude. I also felt tears prick my eyes.
     This unexpected moment reinforced that what I've been saying I actually mean: I am writing because it is part of who I am. It brings me joy and healing and is a form of companionship with myself and my reader. When I say that I'm not writing to become famous, I have proof that I actually mean it. I am so honored to know that my counselor is using it as a tool for others who are finding their way.
     This is what it looks and feels like to show up, do the work, and let go of the outcome.
     “No part of our experience is wasted. Everything you've experienced so far is part of what you were meant to learn.” - Martha Beck
 
I like the glow of my laptop in my glasses. Up too late doing what I love.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Rejection #8

Tonight I received the latest rejection.

It was a solid rejection letter--a keeper:

"Dear Julie Steele:

Thank you for sending your work to Narrative. We are always grateful for the opportunity to review new work, and we have given [your piece] close attention and careful consideration. We regret, however, that [it] does not meet our needs at this time. We hope that you will keep us in mind in the future.

Sincerely,

The Editors"

I keep scanning my head, heart, and body for sensations. Do I need to cry? Do I feel disappointment? Am I discouraged?

It's the strangest thing. I am none of these things. Sure, I'm bummed that I'm out of the running for the $4,000 prize, but...that's not why I submitted it. I threw my work into the ring because it's a solid example of showing up, butt in chair, and doing the work. I feel relief that I don't have to wonder about this submission anymore.

It's the best thing I've written to date, but because of that, I know I've already won. There's more living and writing to do.

I have a lot of story ideas swirling this week--THAT's what has me feeling a little woozy. So today at lunch, I walked to my favorite nearby cozy, shady park, sat down on the grass, and worked on a messy first draft of a story idea that has captured my heart and imagination.


Another activity that helps ground me is to go through something old, decide what I need or can let go of and organize it. Tonight, I came home from work and went straight to the piles of papers documenting my writing life.

These projects always get messier before they get ordered. Photo evidence #1:


As I made my way through the "early work" (the college years are ESPECIALLY cringe-worthy given my broken heart at the time), I found this gem from 1985, photo evidence #2:


In the FIFTH GRADE, I wrote: "...I'll be out of college and be a writer or editor." 

Well, dang. More proof that Tammy was right. This writing seed has long been planted in me. I feel grateful every time I am reminded of it. It helps me stay the course. To remember that I'm writing because it's what brings me joy. It has the potential to encourage and help other people. These are the reasons I write toward rejection 9...152...300.

My writer's statement is:

     "To feast on words, explore their power and serve up writings      which inspire and encourage my readers and myself."