Some Muddled Musing on the Subject of Rejection

I really should expect by now that with Good News comes News I'm Not Quite as Excited About. I received my first rejection from the contest circuit for the full-length ms of Fabulous Beast, and I'm not going to pretend I'm overjoyed about it. It put a depressing final note on yesterday, which was filled with conferences and grading and a really deep kind of exhaustion, as I didn't sleep very much the night before. My eyes were red and swollen and I'm actually thankful to the three or so students that stood me up, because it bought me more time during the day to grade and get myself organized for the week. 

I was leaving the office, still really tired but feeling a little satisfied, knowing that I'd managed to get a good number of things done, and then I received the email form rejection. I don't mind the email rejection -- a true child of the information age, I definitely prefer the speed with which I can find out that a journal or book doesn't want my work -- but it dampened my mood and made me feel even more tired than I'd felt all day, something I didn't think was possible.

I can't describe the rejection as a sting, because I'm not bitter. While I believe in my manuscript, I don't feel like anyone owes me anything. But I do hope that out of the six publishers I've sent it to, someone shows it some attention.

And yet as I write this, I know also that I shouldn't really hope for that, either. Last week, the poet and my new friend James Arthur visited Stuffolk to guest-teach some creative writing classes and give a reading to our club members. As I was driving him back to the train station on Friday, he told me that his first book, the lovely Charms Against Lightning, just published in November by the esteemed Copper Canyon Press, didn't do well on the first-book contest circuit. 

So, you know, there's THAT gem to hold on to: if a book of mostly formal, well-written, widely published poems -- the Charms Against Lightning acknowledgments page is not one, but two pages long, and includes most of the "big names" in lit journals --  a book just published by one of the oldest and most respected small presses in the country -- if that book is rejected by the army of MFA grad students out there, what chance has my own book of mostly formal, not-so-widely published poems of making it through the wasteland of first readers?

Nonetheless, despite my griping above, I don't really see this rejection as too much of a blow, despite the fact that I really like the press that rejected me and I hoped -- really hoped -- they'd like my ms, too. I can't, when there are at least six more publishers out there who have it, and three publishers who don't have it yet but will have it after the new year.

When all ten of these publishers have rejected it, and when all ten have sent form rejections and the ms hasn't made it past any of the first-readers . . . well, then maybe I'll be a little more devastated. But I'll have a new baby in my arms by that point, and I'll probably be too distracted by diapers and post-partum nonsense for rejection-devastation. I'll be devastated for other reasons! (Har, har, har . . .)

Right now, I think I'm a little too tired for devastation. Today, I have two classes to teach and six half-hour conferences to slog through before 4 p.m., and then I have a slew of grading to do before tomorrow's round of conferences and class . . . so I'm pretty focused on work, and not on the possible drama of rejection. I did want to reflect on it briefly, though. I find it interesting -- the way we all (we all = writers) deal with rejection. 

For now, I deal with it by being super-sleepy, and by succumbing to the sense of defeat that comes not from rejection, but from teaching and not meeting, once again, self-imposed (but reasonable) grading deadlines this semester. I am swimming in failure right now, and trying to keep my head above the surf. I will be so, so relieved when this semester has finally come to a close. My first year of teaching after my sabbatical has been really eye-opening, and not in a good way.

At least, it would be eye-opening if my eyes could open any further. I'm still dealing with a night of abbreviated sleep and its resulting swollen lid-ness.

And now, on to more of that grading.


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