Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Rejection Housekeeping and the Next Rejection

A few months ago, I did some digital housekeeping and created a better filing and numbering system for my submissions and rejections. In the process, I determined my numbering was off, so I have now corrected that and feel confident that my system will help me track my rejections and publications moving forward.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to business. On November 14, I received the email announcing that I did not receive one of the Sustainable Arts Foundation’s grants for artists who are raising children. This makes rejection 19.

I haven’t submitted much this year. It’s been a quiet year of grieving and regrouping. I have been focused on learning how to garden and teach yoga. I am fine tuning my understanding of the rhythms of life. There is value in honoring and adhering to the particular seasons of life. It’s a relief to remember that I cannot write without breaks to catch my breath and live into the next season of writing. This insight helps me relax and take each moment as it comes.

I read the jurors’ comments to a coworker who I had encouraged to also submit an application. I felt tightness in my throat as I read the words.

“Generally speaking, I think blog posts don’t make for the strongest writing samples…it’s just really hard for most of them, with their more casual, sometimes off-hand style, to compete against really polished samples prepared for print or more formal publication. I hope this is helpful, and I wish you the very best with your work.”

It was helpful feedback. I will avoid including blog posts as part of my portfolio in future grant applications, but the reality is that’s where I am right now. I am primarily writing blog posts. So now what? But also, the blog posts I included were not the bulk of my submission.

The second juror addressed the short story, which made up half of the 15-page portfolio. It was the first short story I’d written as an adult and focused on a woman and her aging grandfather. It took some courage to finish it and to submit it for consideration. The juror asked, “Other than this being potentially the last visit, what makes this visit stand out from all the others? Why is this the one to record?” She wrote that the shift in my story “threw her,” wished she’d “had a clue earlier of what was coming.” Then finished with “I enjoyed reading this…”

Now I was defensive.  These comments felt all over the place and didn’t give me much to go on to improve my storytelling. Also, when a reader is “thrown” that’s generally not a good thing, so don’t soften it by then telling me that you enjoyed reading it. See? I was defensive.

I have learned how to take and offer constructive feedback from writing retreats and workshops I’ve attended. In those spaces, I didn’t always hear glowing comments, and I grew from having heard what needed to be said. I was disappointed that juror two’s comments didn’t give me clear direction forward.

For a short time after receiving the email, my internal monologue wasn’t upbeat. What am I doing? What is the point of this? Those questions evoked defeatist feelings, but they were crucial to ask. Even more important was my willingness to wait for the answers and to consider what bubbled to the surface.

Am I writing to be famous? No.

Am I writing to be rich? No.

Am I writing to understand myself and the world around me better? Yes.

Am I writing to help others not feel alone? Yes.

Do I feel joy when I write? Yes.

Do I have something to say? Yes.

Rejection 19 helped clarify how words shape my life and what I want to do with them. I am reminded of what a number of published authors have said about being published. If they'd got the book deal early on when they wanted it, they would not have been prepared for everything that comes with publication.
If I'm published, I want it to be my best work. I know I'm not there yet, but I am so much closer than I was five years ago when I started 300 rejections. These mounting rejections are practice ground. I have to keep writing to get to the story that will be ready for publication. I have no idea what that story will be, and it is a relief to not be freaked out by the uncertainty. I know how much better I feel for having written what I have so far. These rejections are asking me to commit over and over to this life of writing for the sake of writing. The rejections ask of me courage, determination, and grit. Am I up for that?
This exploration reminded me of what happened after I wrote a story to accompany my friend’s handmade doll. She recalled what it was like to watch the little shopper at her booth find the doll, read the doll’s story, and exclaim, “I am Prism.”

This story made me tear up. My words connected the child with the doll. My imagination made space for this child to feel seen and to know she matters.  My heart expands each time I string words into sentences and send them out into the world to be read.

For a season, I lost track of all of that. Rejection 19 reminded me to keep my eye on what I really want. Turns out, I already have it.
My job is to keep writing and trust that what’s supposed to come my way will come in its own time.

Monday, November 12, 2018

More to Say about Grief- 11 Months Later

2018 feels like three years in one. I cannot believe that eleven months ago my grandpa died. It feels like yesterday that my feet burned inside the funeral car after standing at the snow-covered graveside with no trees to block the arctic prairie winds that blew.
Grandpa's death was a devastation, but I was prepared for it. Another loss blindsided me weeks after I lost Grandpa. I haven't acknowledged that loss in this space because it has taken many months to wrap my brain around it. I haven't had words to make sense of it, and plus I was hurt. Hurting, double time.
Also, had I written about it then, I would have been really melodramatic, and I had no use for melodrama. Being still and letting the grief wash over me and do its work was the best way to cope. My, have I learned how to grieve well in recent years.
Tonight as I listened to an episode of the podcast, Armchair Expert with Dax Shepherd, I heard this post begin to write itself. Dax was interviewing Zach Braff. They are both actors, directors, and writers, and they were comparing notes about the writing process and how hard it is, how much discipline it requires, and what works for them in accomplishing a writing session or a finished draft.
Hearing these two creatives talk about their craft reminded me of the conversations I used to have with this particular person. 
On and off for the past eleven months I've had imaginary conversations with both my grandpa and my friend. The conversations with Grandpa always come so naturally. I imagine him hearing me and responding, and so my imagination and broken heart have been soothed.
The conversations with the friend are laced with a mixture of other things: a little sass, a little resentment, a little pout, and not a little bit of fire, feistiness, bravada (my feminine version for bravado).
Dax and Zach's conversation made me think of all the things I've wanted to tell this friend over the months. For instance:
  • How different my approach to writing has become. I write because I am compelled to. If readers read, that's great, but I no longer count or depend on “likes” the way I used to. I enjoyed writing this October's series so much. I felt deeply about the story I had to tell, and was undaunted by the fact that my blog stats showed it wasn't read by as many people as the previous years' series. It was an important story for me to tell, and so I told it.
  • I don't write every day, but when I write, it is life-affirming, and I always find something new to say.
  • My yoga training has been a fiery experience. To get the most out of it, it required me to question a new layer of questions about myself, my fears, dreams, and expectations. I have asked those questions, listened for the answers, and done so with gentle self-care when the answers that surfaced were hard to bear or to wrestle with.
  • The training scared me, which was one of the reasons I registered for it. I have come to learn that the things that scare me are the best experiences for me, and that I cannot shy away from them.
  • I observe my moods, thoughts, and sensations in my body before I react to them with more precision and capability than in the past. This practice has changed life for the better.
  • I feel so different than I did three years ago when this new approach to life seized me.
  • I genuinely enjoyed watching my daughter play soccer—a new sport for both of us.
  • I have a new book idea. The one my friend told me I would write. I was surprised by the declaration that this friend made, but I trusted it, tucked it away for later. In what feels like divine timing, the book idea is finally catching up to me, and I feel really excited about diving into it in 2019. I've known for a long time that I was still living the story, so I had to wait for the story to find me. It has, and I feel certain that the three years of writing has prepared me for this specific project.
  • Armchair Expert podcast is excellent, and I highly recommend it.
There are other things I would tell this friend, and I know they would evoke an 'atta girl' and maybe even a few 'proud of yous.' I don't need to hear them to feel them. This friend's fingerprint is on all of these things, and yet as time passes, the ink fades. That fact would have upset me a lot when I experienced the abrupt change in friendship status, but today, I am at peace with it. The shape shifting our friendship underwent doesn't negate any of the goodness or transformation I experienced. My gratitude for what our friendship gave me keeps the other feelings in check, and for that I feel relieved and capable of moving forward and thriving.
Learning how to lean into the discomfort and to actively grieve the inevitable losses that blow in and out of my life makes it possible to accept this unexpected one. It turns out I don't have to fully understand something to come to terms with it. I am so much better at living adjacent to life's mysteries and the unknown.