I have come to the conclusion that one is never as adept at handling rejection as one thinks they are. Case and point: after a year of waiting and building up and getting excited and then frustrated, the piece I consider to be my best piece, the one that I feel really shows who I am as a writer, was declined today. I think that, after this long, I really thought it would be accepted. I thought I was actually a writer.
They liked my piece, but there wasn’t a fit for it—at least that’s what they told me. It was the most glorious soft rejection of a work that I have ever read, but it would have felt better had they declined it outright. Saying how close I came makes it all the worse. The piece is me. So therefore, in my head, there is no fit for me. This rejection makes me wonder about everything, about whether there is a niche for writing like mine. Writing that opens life up wide and bares the soul and displays the darkness for everyone to see. Writing that is honest. Memoir. This is what I want to write. I like to think that I’m good at this. But I wasn’t good enough this time. I wasn’t good enough to find a home.
I want to do this with the rest of my life, write. But if this is all I can write, if there is no place for this kind of writing, if I can’t figure out how to make it work, then I am wasting time. I have screwed up. I have made the wrong choices. People tell me rejection will make stronger, and yes, while that may be true, it also sucks. It especially sucks for this piece.
This is the piece that helped me sort out my head, that gave life to the lifeless.
This is the piece that got me into grad school.
This is the piece that really made me a writer.
So I thought.
But it wasn’t good enough. Right now, it doesn’t matter to me that I can write well. It doesn’t matter that I’m smart; it doesn’t matter that I got into grad school. What matters is that this one piece, this piece I love, this piece that means everything to me, didn’t make the cut. And I, who thought I was getting skilled at handling rejection, don’t even know how to handle that. This rejection feels deeply, deeply personal where other rejections of my work have not. Like I will never even get out of the gate, because my best work is not enough to help me fly. Like I will always fall.
I got to hear Cheryl Strayed speak last week, and I would consider that to be one of the greater defining moments of my life. One of the things she said that really stuck with me was: “I was me in a hard time of my life and the I was me learning how to be in a new time of my life. You can fuck up your life and then be okay again, to accept into your heart the real thing you don’t want to accept. To live. To thrive.” Writing has been my way of accepting, of living. And I wonder, a lot lately, if I’m making the right choice. If I’m good enough. If I can hack it; if I can handle. I wonder if I will ever get my moment, that moment where I know, or if it will always be this way.
Do I want to be a writer? Do I want to take this risk? Do I want to be on this path for the rest of my life?
More over, CAN I be a writer? Not just a writer on paper, a person who writes, but a WRITER? Today, I don’t know how to answer that question.