Catalogue of Disappointments

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?

6 responses to “Catalogue of Disappointments”

  1. Nova — this post really resonated for me. Those “moments before” are so familiar – and they would be what my therapist (ha) would call a classic “writer’s mind.” – that imagination always going, full strength. I think that is the beauty of being a writer, but yes, it can make the crash difficult.

    I’m not going to Bread Loaf. But I’m wondering if you are coming out to California: now I’m guessing – Napa? Squaw?

    I love Napa Valley Writers Conf. I’ve even gone there when I’m not part of the conference, to soak up the vibes, go to the lectures and readings (and skip the workshop part, which I’m really burnt out on, I think).


  2. Nova–you have pierced my psyche! I hope the ultimate book of “successes” will make this book all worthwhile. They do say for everyone acceptance, that a writer suffers almost a hundred rejections. I say that to myself as I receive the rejection slips (literally, slips at times).

    I too, am wondering if you are coming out to California! Like Susan, I too love Napa–very laid back and craft-focused. (Squaw is an entirely different scene–very nice but very competitive and full of shmoozing with agents).


  3. I’m not going to Bread Loaf this summer. I’m going to Nappy Changing Central. Heh, never mind…!

    I’m also checking blogs before getting into the shower, this is very, very bad because a certain ticking timebomb is about to wake up and start screaming in a minute.

    I’m trying not to let myself live in that hopeful moment right now. Too many other people are trying to do it for me and it’s making me nervous. I lose count of the number of rejections and disappointments I’ve had with writing. The figure is easily over 100… I’ve been in the hopeful moment so many times it feels like a bad omen. I blank the thoughts from my mind but suddenly, here I am lunching with agents and editors or running round a bookshop with my book. It is the curse of too much imagination!!

    But you know, you’re going to make it, I have a strong feeling about this. Just keep on going, keep writing and submitting. You will do it. It’s just a matter of time.


  4. Susan, Jade, I’ve wanted to go to the Napa and Squaw Valley conferences, I almost made it to both some years back but couldn’t get to the West Coast, I hope to try again soon! But no, this one I am having outrageous fantasies of being able to afford and get the time off to go to is Tin House. For the moment it’s just nice to pretend.
    Helen, I happen to have a similar strong feeling about you.


  5. from what you mentioned, your new boss seems like an incredible person and i’m sure that if at all possible he’d be more than happy to let you go to the workshop. even if he’s unable to because of higher-up rules, i think that he’d still “want” you to be able to, which is awesome.
    there should be a starving artist airfare fund or something similar.
    i’m gonna sit outside of jfk for a few weeks holding a cardboard sign that says, “writer needs roundtrip tix to portland.”
    if only i had an army jacket, a three-legged-dog, and could grow a proper beard.


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