Rejected again last night, and I didn't cry over it. I'm too busy with these other freelance distractions to cry, or feel sorry for myself for a long extended period of time, as would be my usual, and so maybe it's for the best that I am doing this, not a spare second to put away the laundry or sleep. A spare second is all I need to break down again.
Rejection gives you tough skin, it's true. But under it, where no one can see, is another matter.
Do other writers play this game? It's a game I used to like to play — and one I still play, but with hesitation, because it can hurt — involves standing before the shelf that might be yours someday. Standing at your spot in a library or, like today, a bookstore. To look at your spot, either empty or filled with another, and wonder. Sometimes I find the spot by accident, and I stand near it, hovering, realizing where I am. Other times I seek it out and when I find it there is a gap in the books, just waiting for me, saying someday maybe you'll come back.
Today I came upon it by accident. There was no room for me there. Today the spot on the shelf felt too far away to even reach out a hand and touch.
Every day when I get home from work or from writing, E and I have the same conversation:
N: Hi, honey. Was there . . . um . . . any bad mail?
N: You didn't look me in the eyes when I asked. There was bad mail, wasn't there? Tell me if there was. I want to know.
E: No, really, there wasn't.
N: You've hidden it, haven't you? You just don't want me to cry again. That's sweet.
E: Seriously, honey, there wasn't any bad mail.
N: You're just saying that.
E: You're insane.
N: You know what? If there was bad mail today, I really don't want to know about it, so thank you for hiding it. I'll deal with it later.
E: Okay. But there wasn't.
(Some minutes pass.)
N: Honey, now tell me the truth. Was there any bad mail?
When I give up, we’ll leave the country and move someplace warm where we only know a few words of the language to get by. I’ll name myself something ironic, and by then it will suit me. I’ll stop wearing shoes. I’ll start drinking again; I’ll drink like I never did, maybe tequila. I’ll sleep till my bones beg to be moved. I’ll take up the PlayStation. It might not feel like failure once you stop wanting it. There will be water close by, and I’ll throw stones into the water and watch them sink. It will feel good. That will be my day: sleeping in, drinking from the bottle, playing a good shooter, throwing a few stones.
I’m about calf-deep in the freelance book due May 1 and after a break for lunch and more caffeine in the hopes that I can slog on in up to my knees, I see another writer typing madly away at her laptop. She has that fire where you can’t see anything or anyone around you. Her fingers are too slow for her brain. I know she’ll be typing away like that until her hands spasm from exhaustion, until her neck burns, or until the ideas fizzle away, whichever comes first. I knew it, just by watching her, that she was writing something she loved. She had to write it, whatever it was. There was nothing else she could do but write it.
I am envious of her.
To write on assignment, I plop myself down at a table or a desk and force myself to attend to a scene. I have already outlined the scene, sometimes in great detail, and that outline sits just beside me, each scene waiting to be crossed out as done. They come out slowly, sometimes they are stiff dead things on the page and I just tell myself I’ll go back later and spruce them up. There is no love in this process. Maybe sometimes I get excited, I get to a scene that feels like something that belongs to me and I pump it up and my fingers move quickly and . . . in reality, that will probably be a scene cut later, once the editors see the whole draft. I’m a surrogate. The book I’m writing is not mine right now; it won’t ever be.
It’s nothing like that other writer. I hear her still, typing away.
A long time ago — it may not be so long in years or, in fact, months, but it feels an eternity ago — I had that feeling she’s having now. Something was in me and I had to get it out, and I loved every word on that page, every single goddamn one, I was so happy to have them out there. Sometimes the words were so perfect I thought I could never show another living soul, because surely other people wouldn’t see what I saw in the words I’d written, they’d deflate and crumble and all their flaws would show. They’d ruin it for me, other people reading what I wrote. A long time ago, it was enough just to have written it. I was innocent, hopeful, so excited I could have kept typing away at the pages for 48 hours straight if I didn’t have to stop to eat or sleep. The process was all that mattered then, not the chase for the elusive book deal that has already run me over flat at least five times already this year.
I miss those days.
Reasons for reading aloud an excerpt of my short story in front of strangers and maybe some people who know me, not being sure which is worse, and combatting a probable anxiety disorder that runs unchecked without meds because meds would be admitting defeat:
1) I like reading aloud from my short stories. Mostly to empty rooms, but the concept is the same.
2) I like hearing other people read from their short stories, even if I am too nervous to swallow solid foods or to stop shaking my foot incessantly while I listen.
3) I like supporting small literary journals in any way I can and this one has actually used precious pages to publish me (me!) and so to be asked to read for them is something I certainly cannot refuse.
4) It could be fun. If I were able to relax enough to let it be.
Reasons for NOT reading aloud an excerpt of my short story in front of strangers and maybe some people who know me, not being sure which is worse, and combatting a probable anxiety disorder that runs unchecked without meds because meds would be admitting defeat:
1) Possible embarrassment.
2) Possible shame.
3) Possible tomatoes thrown at head.
I haven't decided for sure yet, but I am thinking maybe I should do it. I like tomatoes, actually.