(See my bento and die from food envy: mini omelette with chive tie, mini sausages, card suit couscous, carved card suit Babybel cheese, lemon drizzle cupcake, sweets and peanuts, home-made peanut brittle (lid snack) and kiwi and apple salad …)
When rejection creeps up on you and when you reject …
I’m going to share with you a story I’ve never told before. There was a boy I went to school with who was a heart-throb. I had never spoken to him, but, like almost every other girl, worshipped him from afar. He had a long sensitive face, grey-blue eyes and ash-blond hair and probably went on to look a bit like Ian McKellen (but straighter, one suspects, on the evidence) – and one day his best friend ran down the main drive of the school and said, a bit breathlessly, ‘Simon wants to go out with you.’
Did I swoon? Did I blush? No, I laughed in his face and walked by, and walked by Simon too, in his donkey jacket (very fashionable that year) standing in the middle of the assembly hall looking somewhat bewildered. In fact I never spoke to Simon.
Why did I act like such a heartless, witless, bitch? Well because I was at that age when I believed that anybody who might find me interesting or attractive must have some terrible deficiency in their intellect or some ghastly hidden secret that made them feel I was a kindred spirit. Like Groucho Marx, I wouldn’t join a club that would have me as a member, and my feelings for anybody who seemed to like me underwent an creeping change until I loathed that person and their puerile inability to see how loathsome I was.
Why am I troubling you with this particular bit of adolescent guff? Well because I notice that some writers still have it (I’ve outgrown mine, thank God, and now know that most people loathe something about themselves, it’s what makes them human, but it shouldn’t be allowed to dominate life) in relation to publication.
It manifests like this. ‘X has just said they’ll publish my short story about snails,’ says a writer.
‘Congratulations,’ I reply (sometimes through gritted teeth and envious tongue).
‘Well, that’s great, isn’t it? You’ve been trying to get into X for years,’ I continue.
‘Yes … but …’ and the writer sighs.
And there it is – X is suddenly not a good place to be published, precisely because X has accepted work from that writer.
Outright rejection is something writers have to learn to deal with fairly robustly if they are to have a reasonable quality of life. Insidious rejection is something else – the kind of rejection that creeps up on you because you don’t value yourself enough to trust other people’s estimation of you is one of the most dangerous creativity sappers because it leads to the leaping over hurdles to strain at skyscrapers syndrome where the only answer to the burgeoning self-hate would be publication in The New Yorker with a story that is then optioned by Steven Spielberg and also awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. But even then, the self-loathing writer will find a way to undermine their success.
What’s the answer, dear reader?
–Know that perfection is unattainable. Any creation is flawed. You can do better next time – so move on and don’t fret about what is past. If you are disappointed or uncertain, use that energy to create new work, not fiddle with what has already found a home.
–Don’t let writing be the whole of your life. Find a non-competitive hobby, an absorbing interest or a demanding sport and ensure that you cultivate it – spreading your spirit across activities deprives writing of the change to sap your vitality.
I wish I’d gone out with Simon (he was, by all accounts, a great kisser) but I’m glad I learned the lesson then, and that my bread-making, yoga practice, gardening and new hobby (bento!) feed my creative impulses so that writing, whether accepted or not, is just one thing in a life that I try to live pretty fully.