Every day starts the same way, I get up, grab my robe from behind the bedroom door and silently make my way down the hallway to the kitchen. I pour myself a glass apple cider vinegar mixed with water and slowly chug it down. I’d like to say that I do this for health reasons, but I like the taste of it, it’s bitter, like me. I open the fridge and stare blankly at it, like some being from deep within is going to tell me the meaning of life in addition to what to take out for dinner. Nothing changes, the expiration dates become the only way of marking the passage of time.
I used to think that I had a lot going for me. That by the time I reached my Fortieth birthday, I would be published by Scribner or HarperCollins with several New Yorker pieces under my belt. Over the years my wish list of where I’d like to be published dwindled down to anywhere they would have me at whatever price.
In the early hours before the house erupts with noise and movement, I spend my time reading. I peruse my email for my latest rejection letter from a journal that only a few years earlier I wouldn’t have even bothered to send a query to, and I read. I read the essays and short stories of those lucky enough to make it from the slush pile onto the published page. I called it learning or at least the attempt at learning what made their writing so special. I didn’t desire to imitate their style or subject matter; I just wanted to know how I was different. Or maybe I wasn’t, and that was the problem.
I lamented my first rejections. Each one felt like pieces of my soul were being stripped from my body.
“Don’t worry,” my husband would say, “Do you know how many times Stephen King was rejected until he was finally published?”
“I don’t know.”
“A lot. It’s all a part of the process.”
But the process seems to take forever and I feel like I am starting behind the 8ball because I’m not fresh-faced and recently matriculated. If it took decades for me to get published, I might not live to see it. And who wants to be published posthumously? It doesn’t count if you’re dead. I wrote, even more, submitted more, and was rejected more to the point where I expect the rejection letter before I even send the query. Questions of “what am I doing wrong,” were on constant repeat in my head. I started to believe the dialogue in my head.
“Getting into Yale was a fluke.”
“You only got in because they needed another face, it had nothing to do with your talent.”
“You’ll never get published.”
“You’re just wasting your time.”
I stop writing and fall into the pit that is my depression. It takes hold of me and wraps around me like a Boa Constrictor desperate for its next meal. I try to find things to occupy the free hours of my day that were once delineated to writing. I read. I plan trips that I’ll never take. I waste away hours on Facebook randomly ogling the lives others have somehow managed to build for themselves and try as I might to stave off the jealousy that I feel, it burrows deep within me anyway. I start baking bread and making meals from scratch in a vain attempt to get praise for something, anything.
“It’s good,” they’ll say with way less enthusiasm then I hoped.
They have no idea the six hours I just spent in the kitchen nor the two batches I threw out before this one because it just wasn’t right. They don’t know how much I need to feel like I matter, like what I do counts for something in this world. They don’t understand how something as simple as some bread is the tie that binds my self-worth together.
“Thank you,” I mumble and chew my bread silently pondering what I could have done differently that would have made them respond with, “Wow, this is awesome. This is the greatest bread we’ve ever tasted. We never knew you were capable of such a feat of culinary artistry!”
Those comments never come, and I while away the hours in some trivial pursuit that doesn’t fulfill me. Eventually, I come back to writing, a few short stories here and there until I finally get up the courage to submit again. I pick a piece, work it to death until its perfect, and press submit a few dozen times, and then I wait. The waiting is the easiest part of the entire process. Between the time of submission and the time of rejection, I’m full of hope.
“This could be it.”
That period before the rejections start pouring in is like the honeymoon phase in a marriage. It’s that time when everything I did was cute and perfect. I easily held all his attention. Then reality sets in, I’m not the goddess he once thought I was, I’m just average like everyone else. The first email comes, and I hesitate to open it because if this is it, I want to savor it. Deep down I know it isn’t and that little piece of me that refuses to resign itself to failure still hopes that one day, I’ll find acceptance. Today is not that day, nor will it be the next one. Each rejection sends me back to that place, that feeling of being unworthy, a failure, an imposter, and a loser. And it’s hard to shake it off.
I read over the email looking for any shred of good.
“Please consider us for future queries.”
I hold onto that sentence like it’s my life raft and I’m stranded in the middle of the Atlantic. It’s all I have left to come between me and the darkness. But I know it’s a blanket statement. In a world where everyone gets a participation trophy, the, “please consider us for future queries,” has become the equivalent to the condescending pat on the head. It’s supposed to make the writer feel like all is not lost, that they found something good in it somewhere, just maybe this piece wasn’t right at the right time. My whole life has been not at the right time, and I don’t have that much time left.
I could probably handle the rejection a lot better if I were younger. Now sitting firmly in the middle of my life, I have the impenetrable feeling that I have wasted the first forty years of my life and because of that, I’m predestined to waste the last forty. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.
Eventually, I know I will give up. Only a crazy person keeps repeating the same action expecting a different result. One day I will realize that even the most fervent, most steadfastly held dreams die in the face of reality.