I am feeling the mad scramble to keep up with the events in the world as we know it. I am frustrated that my mind is not nimble enough to follow the minute-to-minute changes. Did she get confirmed, or not? When did he get confirmed? Who are these people? Do world leaders typically hang up on each other? What happened last night? What happened in the hour since I last checked the news? What’s happening now? And now?
A confession: I feel guilty writing this post. But here it is because I realize in the midst of all of this uncertainty, we are all still living lives where we get up in the morning, brush our teeth, go to a job, write our elected officials, and, occasionally, dwell in the mundane. I feel the need to keep writing, no matter how silly or discombobulated the writing is. I’ve always loved the title of one of Jack Kornfield’s books, "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry." Now feels like, “After the End of Times, the Laundry.” Or, “After the News, the Balanced Checkbook: Moving to a Stick-Bartering System.” Or, “After Recognizing My Privilege, I Still Whine.”
The mundane for me this week involves rejection. My book-length essay collection was rejected by another publisher—the seventh publisher. But seven is supposed to be a lucky number, right? And, just this morning, another rejection from a publication I have been published in already. Maybe I am a one-trick pony, doomed to be known only for restroom hiding tips and midlife crisis book reviews. I’m reminded of a friend who had over 500 rejections before her beautiful book was finally published. Shit, I have a long way to go. I’m going to need a bigger spreadsheet.
What makes the rejections particularly noticeable to me this week is realizing that I am not writing as much as I did last year and, therefore, not sending out as much work. So, each little essay-baby birthed and sent out that is returned to me feels, well, crappy.
I wrote a little in my last essay about what it’s like to go through a spell of not writing consistently. I noticed for myself that it’s been hard to write since the election. Nothing I wanted to write about felt important, or wise, enough. Or, sometimes, when I’d have an idea, I realized I was too slow and someone really cool already wrote a better essay about the same topic. Sometimes, I’d go ahead and write a piece, but through re-reading and editing, saw that my words were simply a collection of hopscotch thoughts cross-stitched into a thing that only made sense to me.
Like any self-help devotee, I knew I had to get back to a daily writing practice and that I needed help. A friend recommended an online class taught by an editor whose work I admire. The text she uses as a guide is "The Sound of Paper" by Julia Cameron. Our daily writing consists of Morning Pages, which are also part of Cameron’s "The Artist’s Way." First thing in the morning, I scribble out two or more pages of stuff before I’m even fully awake and, painfully, before the coffee has finished brewing.
I’ve tried to write Morning Pages before, but usually give up after a few days. Part of it is I really hate seeing myself on the page—my thoughts, fears, anxieties, and, let’s face it, whininess and/or bitchiness. I’m accountable to a teacher and a writing group now, so I’m managing to keep up with the Morning Pages (almost) daily. I’ve noticed by the third page (Cameron’s minimum) that I’ve slogged through enough of my personal crap and whining to get down to the “real” work and, here, find the kernel of thought for a new essay. I never know if it’s going to be the kernel that pops or the one I bite into accidently as I eat the last few fluffy pieces of corn at the bottom of the bowl. Not all kernels are salty, slick, or worth popping.
Facebook allows me the opportunity to curate my persona into an affable gal-about-town who likes whiskey, reads a lot, and watches sci-fi. In truth, many days, I slog through a collection of stiff, wet coffee grounds (my brain), arthritis in my hands (acute when writing/typing for long periods), thoughts of mortality, and both general and specific insecurities. If my writing life were a Kornfield book, the title might be “After the Ecstasy of Publication, the Rejection (and, more writing, more rejection, the laundry, the bill-paying, the kernels, the news, the everything, and, more rejection. Did I mention the rejection?).”
Rejection of my writing isn’t as painful as getting rejected by crushes in high school (or college, or any time in the time BLP [Before Life Partner]), or realizing the world I used to know seems to be falling apart daily, but it is up there with tooth extraction. Necessary with the short-lived side effect of a wonky drug that has me wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life, along with some residual pain. I’m glad I’m able to have this writing life now at just-past-middle-age because these rejections would have prevented me from writing if I had received them in my early 20s.
There are more important things going on in the world while I sit, type, and whine. For example, I’ve written no emails or called any elected officials today, but at least 25 people I know have. I chose to not look at the news in the past two hours (privilege) while many people have been doing the hard work of keeping on top of things and letting us know what’s happening. I see what’s happening at Berkeley, and still, in this moment, complain about some rejections I received that hurt my feelings.
I wonder if another part of the ecstasy though is this moment of dwelling in the mundane. If I spend the rest of the day eating dark chocolate and searching for other publications that may consider my work, will I be able to be more thoughtful tomorrow? Will I be ready to resume the fight and pick up my pen for justice? When will I know that it’s time to step out of the mundane and back to the world of others? Perhaps when the laundry is actually folded. Maybe it will come to me tomorrow morning as I try to write all this out again, one page at a time, before I’m fully awake, before the coffee finishes brewing.
As much as I hate seeing this version of myself on the page, I’m sharing it with you today. Maybe it’s the thing you need to see right now to help you fold the laundry, or take a moment to be sad, or walk the dog with some sense of purpose and joy, or step into a classroom, or confront your workplace bully, all the while thinking of how to resume the fight in your own way. After the rejection and sadness, the purpose.
After the Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield
Sandra Cisneros: Telling the Truth in Poetry and Prose by Sara Di Blasi
The Sound of Paper: Starting from Scratch by Julia Cameron