As those of you following along know, I began writing a novel a couple of months ago. It’s my first attempt at fiction. The process started off with a gleeful bang (see A Puzzled Thanks), a phenomenon all the more personally delightful because of the fact that I was suffering through what seemed to be the death of hopes to publish a book of narrative non-fiction ever in this lifetime.
So I threw myself wholeheartedly into fiction; forgot all about essay, for the time being anyway. And what should happen? I came across a publisher who is interested in publishing a book of my essays.
I know! Can you believe it?
Two major thoughts about this fascinating turn of events, from a meta perspective. First, the universe has a funny way of handing over the goods as soon as the protagonist finally begins to work on letting go of her need to acquire them.
And secondly, words of wisdom from so many mentors over the years are absolutely true: keep writing. No matter if you can see where you are going, no matter if it looks as if you won’t ever get there, keep writing. Because: when ten years into your writing career you quite out of the blue happen across a publisher, and he just happens to ask you a question you thought you’d never hear, maybe something like “do you have a book-length collection of essays?”, you want to be darn skippy sure you can answer, “Heck yes I do.”
No guarantees on this one, I should note. I have a lot of work to do and it must please. But I am very hopeful. And no matter what, I will remember this moment as a big fat reminder that dreams should be stuck to, but never clung to. No matter which way the winds blow, you will be fine; but never stop working for the thing that will make you leap around in your very own kitchen.
I am quite certain I will complete that novel, by the way. The whole thing is there in my head just waiting to come out. But I shall be a bit distracted for a bit working on that which I’ve always loved: writing essays.
Last night I said, “If anyone spills their milk, I am going to cry.”
I was absolutely serious. Only moments before, in the frenzied aftermath of unloading two children, two bikes, two backpacks, a pink reusable grocery sack full of fresh-from-the-Earth produce, my purse, my work notebook and a handful of smashed crackers from the car, and during the frenzied push to put all of this away plus create some healthy and sustaining meal for the chickens and possibly even myself in the space of ten minutes, I set a full, open beer down on top of a clothing hanger on the counter.
It upturned, dumping beer on the farm share produce, the work papers, Chicken Little, her tricycle and the floor.
(What’s that you ask? Oh, yes, hangers and other miscellany on the kitchen counter are not unusual. Yeah, Chicken Little rides her tricycle in the kitchen quite often. And, actually, I do think drinking beer while multitasking at a high level is a wise choice. Without beer, I’d finally succumb to that nervous breakdown I’ve been threatening for so long.)
So. I wetted a few towels, wiped down the small wailing person now smelling like college bar, mopped at my notebook, threw the drippy farm produce in the sink, grated cheese, made quesadillas, rinsed snap peas, poured two small cups of milk, plunked it all on the table, and declared it dinner.
I sat. Then I said, “If anyone spills their milk, I am going to cry.”
But when not two minutes later, Chicken Little did indeed spill her milk, I did not cry. I did not make a single noise. I rose, dampened more towels, blotted at the now-stripped-naked-as-a-coed wailing small person and the table and the floor, removing all evidence of the unfortunate incident.
(What’s that? Yeah, I guess I should have known Chicken Little would spill her milk. She may be blowing the two-year-old set out of the water with her 14-word sentences and bicycle-riding skills, but she is still two.)
I sat. Two minutes later, the phone rang. I said, “If that’s Daddy, I am going to scream.”
Because Captain Daddy has this funny way of calling right during the thick of high-speed parenting hour. And then saying ever-so-helpful things like, “It just seems like things are so chaotic with you and the girls when I am at work.”
But when it was indeed Captain Daddy on the phone, I did not scream. I informed him in my calm-competent-girl voice that we were quite busy eating a balanced and wholesome dinner, and that we loved him very very much, and how was his day going, and no, everything was going swimmingly here, just fantastic, really, a nonstop party, in fact, and I’d call him—darling, my love, my rock and guiding light—later.
And I threw the dishes in the sink next to the farm share and tossed everyone in the bath and read books and retrieved baba-sippys and Richard Parkers and closed bedroom doors and opened a fresh new beer and sank onto the floor and gave myself a big fat pat on the back for not crying or screaming.
(What’s that you say? Crying and screaming can actually be cathartic and restorative? Hmm, good to know. Sounds fun. I’ll try that next time).
An experiment conducted in the 1960s by Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel tested children’s ability to delay gratification. A child was left alone in a room with a plate of marshmallows, cookies and pretzels. She was told that she could either eat one treat right away or wait until after the adult left the room for a few minutes. When he returned, she could eat two.
My writing group friends agree: there is such a thing as a “good” rejection letter.
As I have reported in the past (Boomerang), an unfortunately much-too-common rejection letter in the publishing industry is no rejection letter—no response at all, which has the result of making one feel like pond scum, or worse, invisible pond scum.
Far too much of the time when I send one of my essay-babies off to publishing-land, it vanishes with barely a whisper of the mouse button never to be heard from again. After a several weeks, I assume it dead, or at least terminally neglected.
Which brings us to a good rejection letter. The qualities of said precious item convey that one’s slaved-over words were a) actually read by a fellow human being b) admired in some stated way and c) deemed worthy of a few sentences of semi-thoughtful reply.
Here’s a lovely rejection I received the other day.
Thank you for sending “The Why Season.” I’m sorry to take so long to reply.
I enjoyed reading your essay and found it both funny and touching. However, I must report that we’ve decided to give it a pass, as we recently published an essay on a similar topic and don’t yet feel ready to revisit the subject. I wish you the best of luck placing this piece elsewhere.
Gee, isn’t that nice? Of course we should not overlook the fact that it’s a big fat no. But why dwell on that when we can bask in the weak filtered light of its approval? Sigh. I feel so warm and fuzzy inside.