On Rejection (Or that soul-sucking thing that makes you feel like crap)

Rejection is a speck, like a bit of unwanted debris, imbedded like a pebble in our psyche, and it stays there niggling away and undermining our self confidence until we feel strong enough to pull it out.
— Janet Warwick

 Yes, I know, we’ve all felt it and still feel it from time to time. Who can forget not getting invited to the popular girl’s birthday sleepover or the job you thought was a slam-dunk but they gave it to someone else? How about attending your second or third choice school because the first choice said no? Then there’s the man (or woman) you gave a chunk of your life loving only to be told marriage is not something they do and then they say I do within months of breaking it off with you? Rejection has a particular color and flavor depending on the severity of the hit. Possibly bright orange-red and burnt tasting as a teenager to a murky brown-green and sour smelling in middle age?

For some at the end of a long life, might the visual of rejection resemble a sturdy table nicked by years of wear and tear? Or does it look and feel more like something more penetrating and severe, say like getting stabbed over and over again as in what happened to Janet Lee’s character in the shower in Psycho? I wonder if that’s how hurt and defeated Van Gogh felt when he chopped his own ear off after years of never selling a painting? Maybe the dirge of rejection wasn’t so deafening after that. But do we really have to maim ourselves to soften the blow of NO?

I’m a writer who has seen more rejection than success but yet I still keep on keeping on. Some days I ask myself why I beat myself up sending work out only to get punched in the gut with Sorry this isn’t right for us. I’m better at not throwing myself pity-parties because I know how arbitrary the world of publishing is. But still. Still, more like a pinch now than a punch, the sting settles in until the memory of it fades but never goes away completely.

Recently I was in Los Angeles for my daughter’s first big art gallery show. Newly graduated from art school she was over-the-moon excited to see her work up on a gallery wall with attendees studying her art. As supportive as I am of her chosen career, I can’t help but wish she had wanted to be a vet or the owner of an ice cream store, either one she would surely be happier doing with her days. Or would she?

I believe true artists create without the safety net of validation. For most of us, there are no paychecks, bonuses, or pats on the back for a job well done. There is no one calling or knocking on our door for MORE. Artists find their work whether it’s painting, writing, jewelry making, or playing the oboe the sustaining life force in their lives; like blood or water, without it they’d shrivel up and blow away if they didn’t create. Is it a blessing or a curse to be so riddled with the need to express something within us in a way that doesn’t quite fit quantifiable boundaries?

One night at dinner in LA I sat facing the door of a popular restaurant and watched as one beautiful person after another entered. Actors, all of them, I thought. At lunch the following day I listened to a pale young woman in a top hat playing an acoustic guitar then switching to a Roland electric piano to cover a Feist song. She played an interpretation of Georgia that sounded better than any rendition I’ve heard in a long time. The town is saturated with talented people. If you look closely the sidewalks silently glow with miles of yellow bricks leading to the big Hollywood break.

But in this large metropolis of rejection how many of these talented individuals are walking and talking shells of blazing white smiles of self-doubt?
Wouldn’t it be great if the mothers of artists could wave a magical wand over their children’s heads so as to soften the blow of all the nicks and stabs of hurt they are for certain to endure? And who’s to say that anything they start, anything they work months or years on will have any resemblance to “art”? I believe what screws up the artist most is the notion that the picture in our head is how it’s suppose to be, not how it is. As the late, great singer Lena Horne said, “It’s not the load that brakes you down, it’s the way you carry it.” And, at times, the baggage of rejection can weigh the heaviest.

If my artist daughter, and all artists everywhere, can live with unrealized dreams but still feel their souls soar with what they’ve spent their time on earth doing I say that’s the picture in your head you need to focus on. So carry on. Rejection is a prick of pain. A life without your art, a gaping wound.

My Dear Sir,
We have read with great interest your intriguing effort of Moby Dick, or The Whale, and while it fortified us greatly, despite the somewhat vision-impairing length of the manuscript, we were wondering if changing certain of the story’s elements might not buoy its purchases at the shop, as it were? First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?

While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens? We are sure that your most genial friend and fine author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, would be instructive in this matter? Mr. Hawthorne has much experience introducing a delicate bosom heaving with burning secrets into popular literature. I’m afraid that while we can appreciate the heartiness with which Captain Ahab pursues his passion for fishing, we would find it estimably helpful on your behalf to leave out his personal belief system. Let us not identify one faith over another, in such sense, that were it to prove an offense to our readers, this would most certainly thin shillings from our purse. If this development affects your character’s motivation disagreeably, then would it not suffice to make him a Lutheran? Everyone knows that Lutherans always have a “bee in their bonnet” anyway and there are not quite so many of them in London.

Bentley & Son appeals to your more libertine nature and requests that (for heaven’s sake, we are trying to sell books here) you discard the employment of ‘thou” and “thee” as it will put the reader too much in mind of the Vicar’s sermon on Sunday, and thus, ruin a good Saturday night read as being just “too much of a good thing”. All in all we were quite delighted with your previous efforts, Typeeand Omoo. They were just the thing, what with the cannibalism and native non-state of dress and all. We remain hopeful for more of the same.

Yours in commercial endeavors, Peter J. Bentley Editor Bentley & Son Publishing House New Burlington St. London, England