I have really gotten some of the loveliest rejections. Since I began submitting my work for publication, I’ve only gotten one rejection that felt unnecessarily rude. And, really, that was early on and if I went back and read it today, I’d probably realize that it wasn’t as mean as I thought. Early on, I was, perhaps, a little sensitive. Over 50 rejections later, I am a little tougher. I’m not a crocodile but I’m not a new born kitten, either. I guess I’m more like a sea horse? (In that I’ve learned to use my fancy tail to hook onto debris so I don’t get swept away by the current. Also, because I like to eat a lot.)
I’ve gotten loads of form rejections. The kind that tells you no in as few words as possible. They generally wish you well. They salute you in an absentminded way. You know what it is without even reading the words – the format tells you no and prepares your brain for the let down. I don’t mind the form rejection. It is clear and it closes the door with a strong snick of the lock. I walk away from the form rejection with a shrug and a “what can you do?” attitude.
The form rejection is a Jacques Tati pratfall – it will make you a little uncomfortable, it might hurt your ass a little but you can laugh it off. You want others to laugh it off with you. I mean, what were the odds of getting into The New Yorker anyway?
But, just recently, there has been a very specific trend of rejections floating my way: The “I love your writing but this doesn’t work for our next issue” rejection. The “you made it to the final round of deliberations but we’ve decided to go another way” rejection. The “you were a finalist but we had so many worthy submissions to choose from” rejection.
The “close but no cigar, sucka” rejection.
These are the ones that hurt the most because they hint at an opportunity lost without my knowledge or participation. The format of the note is chatty which the brain interprets as an acceptance. But, the words: the almost lover, the guy that liked you but liked your sister better. Those words might let you down gradually but they still let you down. They say, “Hey, you are good. But, just…you know…not good enough.”
Those are the ones that break the heart a little. I went back in, I’ll think. I went back in and changed that one sentence and that is probably why. I got a little heavy handed with the sea horse metaphor. But, I don’t love the sea horse! I can lose the sea horse! I’ll kill that God damn sea horse with my bare hands! It doesn’t work for your current issue? What about the next one? Or, the one after that? I bet I’d be great for the 10th issue from now!
Almost lover, why do you make me act like such a desperate tramp?
But, no, the near-miss is still a hit. The fall is less prat and more old lady with a broken hip. And, really, the end result is the same. It had nothing to do with that one sentence or that stupid over-used sea horse metaphor. It maybe had nothing to do with my writing at all.
So I nurse my aches and take my pratfalls. I smile at the fourth wall and I wait for the windfall that surely comes from persistence in the face of failure. It might not be a step up, but it is, at the very least, stepping across to a different ladder. And, if you are looking the right way, all ladders lead up, right?