Stuff to share: rejection, therapy, poetry, play

Driving to and from the tasting room last weekend, I heard things that got me thinking and got me happy, and I wanted to share them with you.

First, I heard a TED Radio Hour segment about rejection therapy, which made me think of the “100 rejections a year” goal. From a poetry perspective, Jia Jiang’s rejection therapy was more like submitting–after all, he did get quite a few acceptances, even though he was trying, deliberately asking for things he had little chance of getting.

Thinking about rejection led me to think about failure–the Samuel Beckett quote but also another TED talk about learning science–or learning anything, or revising a poem! although Mark Rober doesn’t mention that. Rober does point out that when something is hard, or we don’t get it (or, extrapolating, we get rejected), it’s easy to think we just aren’t good at it. Then he compares this despair (my word) with playing video games. Full disclosure: I’m not a gamer unless you count computer spider solitaire, but I’m willing to go with this. When you crash or die the first time in a video game, you don’t give up. Instead, you evaluate what you could do differently the next time, and you try again. Failure as challenge.

As I sit down to continue revising poems, I’m trying to imagine that joy of exploration, of trying and trying and trying just to see what might work better.

But first, in closing, I want to share the most inspirational piece I heard, bringing together failure as not failure, failure as play, some cool lyrical moves and turns and returns, and above all, a great generosity of joy: Amanda Palmer’s Ukulele Anthem. Give it a listen. And go play!

Some days it isn’t easy

We hear it over and over again–rejection comes with the territory. Writers get tons of them—drawers, bathroom walls, whole houses of rejections, or now megabytes and gigabytes of rejections in email. We need to have thick skins.

True, but this is also true. Rejections still hurt–whether it’s like a pinprick, a stubbed toe, a hangnail, a paper cut, or a more serious gash, there is that bit of pain.

This year, I’ve been trying to submit much more than in the past, aiming for 100 submissions—or even 100 rejections. At the rate I’m going, the latter is close to the former. And if all those rejections are toughening up my hide, they still hurt. They accrue—the weight of it, of them. I start to wonder whether I should even bother, whether any of my work is going to get accepted or whether I’ve hit a slack patch, a garden of tiny knives.

This is to say that if you’re at any time feeling discouraged, I’m with you. I understand that it’s hard. Together, we’ll keep learning and growing, writing our best and sending it out. We can look at the poems that come back as perhaps commentary, perhaps a chance to make that work better. We can remind ourselves that this is not the end of the world. We can remind ourselves that the important thing really is the writing, the act, the practice. But we don’t have to pretend that it’s easy every day.

The upside of rejection

No one likes to hear no.

But as hard as rejection is, it can help you out in the long run. Think of it as a forcing function. That poem I thought was perfect and sent out in the mail? If it comes back a few times, I know it’s ready for another look–for some tinkering, revising, completely reimagining, or setting aside for a long while (or forever). Would my poems be as good if they were accepted the first time? Would I have grown as much as a poet, a writer?

Right now, I daily face rejection on two fronts: poetry and a job search (which is more intense, because we’re talking food on the table). Sure, it would be great to get hired right away. But in the meantime, as I work and rework my resume, I’m learning more about what will be a good fit for me, how I can do my best work.

It reminds me of house-hunting. The market was hot then. Our first offer was used to jack up the price for someone else. Losing out on that house felt crushing, as though we’d never find another house as nice as that one. Three months and several more house offer later, I stood in a kitchen and thought, “I really want to live her.” It was a better fit, and we’ve been here 15 years. If we’d gotten that first house, we would have missed this one.

I don’t know whether every no gets you closer to a yes. I do know that you can’t get the yes unless you put yourself or your work out there, and that every rejection can help you learn or discover something new.

When you get a rejection

Do you mope? Do you spiral down into days of depression? Do you send those poems out again right away?

Sunday I got one of those rejections where I tell myself–yes, it was a long shot, but I didn’t want it to be a long shot. I had hope. (True embarrassing fact: I’ve been submitting to this journal since 1985 without an acceptance yet.)

I’m betting no one likes getting rejections. And now they’re usually electronic, which is why I don’t like using my email reading pane. I like the message closed–just like an envelope–and the anticipation, that moment when the news is still possibly good (and sometimes it is good).

Then there’s that weirdness when you get a really personal rejection letter one time and then the next you get the form letter and you feel like you’ve fallen out of the good graces. That’s what happened with another recent rejection.  (Only in poetry can rejection feel like the good graces.)

Monday, I was still depressed and frustrated, asking the questions about why my poetry isn’t good enough and will my poems ever be good enough (I explore, I try new things–and apparently, in these contexts, I’m still coming up short), about how best to focus my time (revising old poems, generating new work, researching blogging), and about how I could increase the time I have each day or use it better. Plus the question about getting out into the community more (I support my community by helping to edit two journals, but I’m terrible about getting out and going to hear readings). Are these questions productive, or would Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi say that they’re psychic entropy, a big swirling negative distraction? Either way, as I’ve mentioned before, Jeannine’s been running a great series of posts on all these “poetry career” questions.

Through this brief grimness, I’ve also remembered two things:

First, I remember the acceptances I’ve gotten. I got a great acceptance earlier in the week. Hello, Joannie–anybody home? I take a moment to be thankful for that positive recognition, that one vote for my poems and that those poems have found a home. That I have a book pending and my chapbook was recently a finalist. Again, HELLO?!

Second, I remind myself that rejections aren’t fun for the sender either. I’ll risk generalizing my own experience here: I’d much rather send an acceptance that will make someone happy for a moment or a day than send a rejection that’s going to disappoint someone. People will tell you that rejections come with the territory, and that’s true both for the writer and the editor.

This morning, with a little residual disappointment, I’m moving on. I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep trying new things. Next reading period, I’ll probably send to that journal again. In the meantime, I need to find a place to send those poems.

I’ll ask again: How do you approach or respond to rejection? Do you allow yourself a little time to mourn, or do you get right back up on the submission horse and ride off toward the sunrise?

Reading: Bender, by Dean Young

Update: Yesterday afternoon, I received an acceptance for a poem from my forthcoming book. A good reminder to keep taking the long view, to keep the details in perspective.

Reading and unrejection

cup of caffe latteSaturday, I’m reading with Denise Calvetti Michaels and others. We’ll be reading from poems in Broken Circles–poetry about food to benefit food banks. Let’s get together, share some poems, and help feed people!

If you aren’t at the ocean or sailing the sound or hiking in the mountains, here are the details:

May 26th at 4:30 at T’Latte
37 103rd Ave NE Ste B, Bellevue (Old Bellevue!)

Rejection stinks

No-signIt’s never fun. But what’s worse? Not hearing back at all.

It’s like the zombie side of rejection–the unrejection.

Do you ever encounter this situation? (Or is it just me?)

Five places have had poems for more than a year. I’ve queried a couple, with no response.  A third replied, and suggested I resubmit using the new process (I think my poems might have been lost in the transition), so I’m starting over.

Yeah, people are busy, but…

I’ve had poems at a couple of places for more than two years. One was going to start reading again after the first year, but now the seasons have turned full circle. I queried the other but again didn’t hear back.

Yeah, this sounds like a lot of whining, but…

I could just cross them off the list and send the poems out somewhere else, but I have had people contact me after more than a year to accept a poem (and in one case, after more than two years and the poem had already been accepted by somewhere else and it was sticky).

What do you do when your poems sit in someone’s stack for more than 12 months? How do you query? Do you ever hear back?