Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Give Us a Kiss

Over the years, you've had considerable experience crafting what you thought were well-wrought stories, novels, and essays, only to send them forth with a result contrary to your hope.  At one point, a full-sized wastebasket was pepered with rejection slips.  Although you kept it close to your work area, it seemed to go well with one particular wall in your bedroom, where the rejection slips began at the moulding level, working their way ceiling word.


Somewhere in your teaching notes and files from USC is a thick folder filled with them, some as impersonal as a traffic ticket, others filled with notes, comments, even drawings. You're trying to think of a number that is not an exaggeration.  Five hundred seems about right.

One of your favorite literary journals took three stories, as each was written and polished.  The editor even wrote you a note saying you were one of his regulars, but as such things happen, the editor died.  The next three stories were rejected with brief reasons for the decisions.  You didn't place another story in that journal until a memorial edition for the deceased editor was published.

At present, you're in a situation where you have had a slather of acceptances.  You've even had individuals solicit you for material. Until about a week ago, no rejection slips.  Then your agent thought to try out the proposal for a project you're about a third of the way through, no doubt looking to see if she could scare up the equivalent of a bidding war, because two publishers are already wanting the project.  

The agent's submission of the proposal produced a complementary acknowledgment that you knew your way around a proposal, followed by an almost sneering rejection of the project, followed by an offer to "clean it up," and make it viable for $2500.

In many ways, this is the most emphatic rejection you've had, even though you did not have the sense of anticipation that comes with submitting a project because you weren't aware of the submission.  Most rejections are straightforward, in publishing as in life:  No. Other rejections hold out a bit more hope.  Try us again.  Or as a girl named Myrna once told her when you raised pointed questions about becoming her boyfriend, "Come back when you can kiss better.  Then we'll decide."

You spent the better part of a year, learning how to kiss better, and were encouraged when two girls actually praised you for your abilities, but when you approached Myrna again, she said, "Not bad.  Not bad at all, but still no spark.  Still nothing happening here--"  she thumped parts of her body you longed to touch.

In a way, Myrna's rejection was also a valid reason for an editor rejecting a story or a novel.  Some rejections meant "Not bad, but no spark."You've put in your time trying to find ways to cause things you write to have some quality that sets off tiny reverberations, leading to a bigger one.  

You stare at and reread stories that have caused you to feel sparks, wondering where the electricity began.  You look at manuscripts that seemed like pretty good kissing, while you were writing them, then wonder where the something was that was supposed to resonate somewhere in an intimate manner.

 If you are not exaggerating about the at least five hundred rejections slips or letters or no responses, you are also below the level of hyperbole when you acknowledge having yourself been the cause of rejecting at least that many.  Early in your editorial career, you had to write reports, could;t simply say NO.  You had to note where you stopped reading, why, and what if anything could be done to make the project viable for the company you then worked for.

You do not think of this as any form of karmic balance; karma can do its own balancing and, in your observation, has done so without need of your help.  You do think, however, that the Human Condition is filled with rejection, sometimes as subtle as a blink of eyes, a nod, a shrug.  

When you find yourself rejecting a suggestion or, as you did today, reject a sandwich because it had the cheese you specifically asked to be withheld, you feel somehow connected with the trade and commerce of Reality, a part of it, sometimes in a position of power, sometimes with less stature than the homeless or panhandlers who wait outside Trader Joe's, holding signs that announce how Every Little Bit Helps, God Will Bless, or the one you say today, Thanks in Advance for Your Kindness.

You in effect rejected all these signs, chosing a woman who sat patiently, her eyes and face radiating the kind of patience you often wish you had when you are aware of the need to be patient.  "Thank you,"  she said, which was fine because it was enough.  

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