Do you ever have one of those days where you wonder why you keep trying? Where, just a day previous, you were convinced you were somehow worthy and now today you’re just not so sure? Yeah, well… I got another rejection today, one I’d been waiting on for 5+ months. And my writers conference fantasy is shot because I waited too long. It’s just one of those days.
I am writing this quick dispatch from my morning writing spot in the few stolen moments between paragraphs, a mere hour until I have to run in for a meeting at work. This is the coffee chain downtown that has seen me write truly hundreds of pages in the past couple of years (if you count the ghostwriting, and I will, because it sounds more dramatic). It hit me, upon coming in this morning and hearing them call out, “Iced or hot today, Nova?” that, after this week, I won’t be coming here in the mornings anymore. I won’t be sitting at this table, my favorite one near the little door that never opens. I won’t be one of the regulars—look, there’s another one now; we just shared a silent nod. This place isn’t convenient to my new commute; I will have to find somewhere else to go. And other places are louder, and do not have so many available outlets. (And the mochas are just not as good.)
I’m a bit choked up.
So, starting June 4, there will be an empty corner convenient to the 1 train. To the writer who takes my place: treat it well. Write a page for me.
Sometimes I get completely and totally obsessed with short stories—yes, the most impractical of fictions. Not just reading them (though put me in a room with a good selection of literary journals *ah, periodicals room at Butler Library, how I miss you* and you might have to drag me from it) but wanting to write them. Wanting to write so many! The ideas keep coming. I know I’m nothing in the face of those ideas, I will never get to all of them, I will probably forget most of them, but it doesn’t matter in these breathless moments. I just like thinking up their voices, their people, their tastes, their shapes. I will go to the website of a literary journal, read the excerpts, want a copy, think of slipping out to my most favorite bookstore in the universe to see what new issues they have in stock, wondering if they have in stock some of the journals my stories are in, wondering if I could possibly write more stories, just more and more stories to try to publish in these journals I love, and what if I did nothing else but write stories, like a story a week, is that possible? is that physically or mentally possible? I mean it takes me months to write just one story, months, and can I change that? can I do better? because I love them so much, I just, I, oh, and then, then, then I take a pause. A good long breath. I can hardly contain myself. Is this some kind of writer psychosis?
There was a time, maybe two years back, when I was feeling overly sorry for myself, realizing how many things I’ve tried for as a writer, and how many times I’ve been shot down, and I thought to make myself feel better (do not ask me why I thought this could possibly make me feel better) I would list them out and count them up. I thought back, with great attention over my lifetime, and tried to recall every single worthy rejection, anything at all that had made what I would consider a real impact on my writing career and had held me back. When I reached item number 100, I stopped counting. I did not expect to have so many. What a stupid, demoralizing idea that was.
Last night I thought back on the list (I wonder where I’d be on it now, 115? 125? But no, I am not going to keep counting). I remembered the feeling of disappointment, seeing as I was feeling sorry for myself for yesterday’s rejection, but then I remembered something else. Before the disappointment, probably related to the disappointment, probably what makes the disappointment feel that much worse, there is the feeling of hopefulness that always comes first. And the hopefulness feels so good. Maybe it’s not so much the rejections I want to remember but the mere minutes before the rejections, when the fantasies are alive and well in my head. The pumping heart! The pretty colors! I could put together a scrapbook, memories of events that never ended up happening. It would be illustrated, of course. I’m thinking painted, jewel tones, perhaps some collage?
Many, very vivid moments would be included.
When I thought this one agent was going to say yes to my novel, when she’d already emailed me twice to say she was loving it, I imagined what she looked like, I imagined meeting her over lunch, what we’d eat, what I’d wear, what she’d say, when I’d sign.
When I thought an editor at my company was going to want to publish my novel I imagined her arriving at my office unannounced, looking for me. (As if she’d leave her floor in the other building to come talk to me; how laughable now.) Still, I imagined how she’d tell me the news. I imagined my surprise. I hoped I wouldn’t be dressed too schlubby the day she arrived. I hoped I wouldn’t start crying.
My imagination just won’t die when it comes to these things. You think it would have learned its lesson. But no.
For instance, I really wanted to go to Bread Loaf this year, but I didn’t get a scholarship (and I said on the application not to consider me for regular paying admission without a scholarship). So I can’t go. Fact is, I am not going. This cannot be disputed. But maybe in my head I am going. Maybe I am there right now. The picture would be bright, soothing green, a thrilling blur of motion cascading over the page. In my head, before I got the news, it was quite an intense experience. When I was waitlisted for the waitership some years ago I had those same bright green images (though slinging plates in the cafeteria marred it somewhat), and I held onto them for the longest time, even after no one canceled and there was no space for me to go.
Then it occurred to me this morning, while checking blogs (yes, yes, I know I shouldn’t do that) before getting in the shower… I am only disappointed about that conference because I wanted something to look forward to this summer. I did get in to another conference: my top choice in fact. Though I didn’t get a scholarship there, at least they told me I was a finalist. And there is an open invitation to still go, if I could pay for it myself.
So you know what? In my fantasies, I am going there (IF I could somehow miraculously afford it, IF I could somehow miraculously get a week off from my new job just after starting)… All humongous IFs, but I’ll spend a little time pretending for the moment. It feels good.
It turns out my catalogue is coming together nicely. The title, the use of the word “disappointments,” might lead you to expect a certain thing, but it is the moment just before the disappointment that I want to remember. This one is bright blue, like the sky I picture on the West Coast. There are typed pages in my hands. There I am under that big blue sky, smiling.
I told you I was delusional.
p.s. I hope some of you reading are going to Bread Loaf this summer. Might you tell me if my fantasy is true?
I went out for drinks to explain myself the other night. To say why I was leaving. To bridge some of the awkwardness that had flooded up between me and the person who was the main reason I stayed put for four years.
I suppose, to some, it might not make sense—leaving this job when I was up for a promotion. It might not make sense that I am losing my authority, my autonomy, to go from running a small corner of the world to being one of many. E used to joke that I was an “underboss.” No more. In all honesty, I have no desire whatsoever to climb any kind of corporate ladder. Yes, it’s true that when I’m working, I work hard. I am seriously dedicated (too dedicated?), to the point where my life has suffered from it, to the point that knowing I’m the one ultimately responsible for something makes me want to be sure it gets done no matter what, and this may be why a certain person wanted me to stay. She said she’s been in denial; she hasn’t even posted the job opening yet. But just because I work hard when I am there doesn’t mean I want the job to be my life. It can’t be my life. I want to be a writer, I told her. There was an understanding, the more we talked, she said she could see why I could give this up, because I have something on the side.
But don’t you see, that’s the whole point! My writing should not be what I do on the side. It was never supposed to be a hobby. My job should be what I do on the side to have the means to keep writing.
Now, that’s all well and good. But with yet another rejection letter today (the news came while writing this post; it was for something I really wanted; I asked E to throw the letter away so I don’t have to set my eyes on it when I get home) I wonder how delusional I’ve become. Still, the intention is there. That gives me a few writer points, no?
It was an odd weekend. I napped twice in the span of three days. I do not nap; it’s something I try to avoid at all costs, all thoughts of napping forbidden! (Though, I’ll admit, I think longingly of leisurely afternoons spent napping more often than I should.) If I do nap, if I cannot keep up my defenses and I go down, I wake up a monster. I despise my weakness, I lament my lost time, I am worse for the wear. But sometimes, sometimes, I cannot help myself…
The first nap, circa Friday late afternoon, was expected. I was exhausted from the graduation trip and had hardly slept the previous two nights. This nap occurred on the couch, with the lights on, so you could say I was not fully committed to the nap itself. I was waiting for someone to say, “Are you napping?” at which I would shoot up and deny it. When I woke up, maybe an hour or so later, I shook it off and pretended it never happened. The first nap was a little hiccup in my otherwise motivated weekend existence. No one would know any better.
Saturday the writing project found itself completed a day ahead of schedule, which meant I had all of Sunday, an entire day!, for my own writing, for anything at all that I wanted, a day, a whole day. I was ecstatic. I couldn’t decide what to work on. On Sunday I woke late—another hiccup, but I ignored it—I spent an hour reading at the coffee shop, and then I went to my weekend writing spot.
…Where I got progressively more and more tired, until, come 4:30 in the afternoon, I found myself at home, in the loft bed, out cold. The nap itself was light. I was aware that I was napping, I was angry at myself for napping, but then this faded, the awareness, the anger, and I was just gliding through a faint sleep, not feeling much of anything. I woke from this nap easily, feeling—what is the word?—refreshed.
That’s right; the nap worked. I was somehow less tired, less grumpy, and less stressed out.
So I ask myself: why the hatred of naps? Was I forced to have daily shut-eye at certain times of the day as a child? Not that I recall; my mother didn’t even give me a bedtime. Did I nap through an important event in my life and regret it ever since? I will never know. Does this have something to do with that month I had mono? Perhaps.
I’m not saying that napping will become a regular part of my weekend. I don’t want a nap habit. But if I’m tired next Sunday, you might just find my head down for an hour, maybe two. If anyone asks me outright if I’m napping I will obviously deny it—but you and I will know the truth.
I attended my little sister’s college graduation this week—two separate ceremonies at a large urban university. She surprised us, and herself, by graduating with honors in her major, and magna cum laude. She had no idea, in fact, until we saw the symbols next to her name in the commencement program and texted the news to her, where she was outside on the street lining up in her cap and gown. She texted back to me: No way! Then she sent another text: Magna? How? I don’t think she believed it until she saw it on her diploma later that afternoon.
This is a girl who struggled through an intensely difficult year, too personal for me to recount here, who worked full-time doing long shifts as a waitress all throughout school to pay her own expenses. She did this on her own. She worked for it; she was never handed anything. She gets stronger and stronger each year. I am amazed by her. I remember the exact moment she was born—vividly; graphically. I love the person she’s become.
At the first ceremony, we sat in the stands and I saw the speck of her—a tiny dot—far away in her row. I was so proud of her, just filled with love for her, so happy, that the tears started threatening to come. I couldn’t stop them and was annoyed at myself when my teariness happened to coincide with the National Anthem. The photographs of me after this ceremony show a huge smile, my cheeks an astounding pink.
At the second ceremony, featuring her school only, there were still rows and rows (and rows and rows) of students, and we waited at least an hour to hear her name called and see her take her walk across the stage. I barely remember the moment. I know I stood up. I knew we cheered as loudly as we could. I tried to take a photograph, but I was so excited, and we were so far up in the stands, the image is a blur.
All the commencement speeches, so inspirational, reminded me of graduating college—how much I’d loved being in school, loved taking classes, and when it was over how the entire world seemed to be at my fingertips. I was heading straight to grad school in New York City. First, I’d spend the summer in Woodstock working at a jewelry store on the Green (ironically having to remove my nose ring in order to do so), then, after three months, I’d move to my Manhattan apartment. Six months later, I got couples housing and E joined me. I had the most enormous of expectations. Now, while it is true that I don’t remember too much of my own graduation ceremony, as both E and I had gotten quite drunk the night before so someone had to escort, i.e., practically carry, us back to our room (thank you, A) and another someone helped us up in the morning (thank you, P and others), I was taken right back there. We went to a small, odd school that didn’t have caps and gowns. I wore a blue shirt and a black skirt, my favorite colors. We didn’t have grades so I have no idea if I would have had any kind of cum laude tacked on to my name. I don’t recall who the commencement speaker was, though I do remember the same kind of message: You are graduates of [Insert School Here]. You can do anything. Now go out and make the world a better place.
I can’t say I’ve done that. I always meant to—but is it possible to do so as a writer, an artist? I certainly hope so, because that’s what I have to give. I haven’t made it yet, all these years and not yet, but I’m still trying.