Rejection and Double-Jumping: Professionalism in the Writing Industry
“Writing,” I said to my partner, “is a unique profession in which one hideously exposes oneself for rejection, over and over and over. This is why I say that I write because I like to suffer.”
Actually, I’d said that I write so that I have a reason to keep drinking. Unfortunately, I’ve nurtured a panacean relationship between suffering and drinking- a cold glass of one tends to ease the dull burn of the other.
At this point in my life, however, it tends to take quite a bit for me to reach for a glass of three buck chuck after yet another form rejection. For example:
A piece of mine- a long, weird-ass, elaborate piece about gender, assault, frog-fucking, and toilets- was provisionally accepted for Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation.
I worked with the editors to clean it up, got it done, waited for the book to come out; meanwhile, my computer died, I was laid off from my job, lost part of my hearing, got evicted mid-winter with my partner and child, and emergency-moved into a cold ass cinder block home with sweating walls, mold-aplenty, and no heat.
We couldn’t afford internet, so my partner and I routinely took to the library to offer sex and search for other such employment opportunities on Craigslist.
I tried out for one of those advertising jobs where desperate people dress up like the statue of liberty and dance on the side of the road for minimum wage. I can-canned, synthetic silver fibers flapping.
Then we went to the library- sniffling, dressed in multiple layers of dirty ill-fitting clothes, the whole “down and out mid-winter” she-bang. I checked my email.
My piece had been cut.
Also, an email from Liberty Tax professionally informed me that I wasn’t to be hired to dance on the side of the road dressed as the statue of liberty for minimum wage because- and I quote- I “wasn’t spirited enough.” By which I assumed they meant that I was too clearly queer, or too obviously poor.
The Gender Outlaw rejection I cried about. Hard. Loudly. In the library parking lot. Sick, dirty, sobbing, and one step away from homelessness: a writer.
Fast forward two years. It’s 2012. My partner, child, and I are living in a single dirty room in a rat-infested Collective. Homeless has become our reality: in a few days we will move to a shelter.
I’m writing things that stretch my own capacities in ways that sting good. I hesitantly submit to a magazine that nominated me for a Puschart, then asked me repeatedly to submit again.
As we’re packing what we can into three hiking bags, flipping our car into a Harry Potter themed homeless lounge, filling out paperwork to certify our hard straights, and as a light snow begins to fall, I get a form rejection back.
Sometimes, when I’m not doing well, I hit reply. I hit reply then. I questioned the sanity and sustainability of a system so built around professionalism that it fails to build personal writer-editor relationships, even when it wants to. Movingly, I got a response back that was written by a discernible human, vs. a droid downloaded from a professional etiquette book. She explained her position as an editor, listened to mine as a writer in tricky straits, and we actually connected. As people. Even though I was a writer and she was an editor. I still hold much respect and gratitude for her today.
I edit for her magazine now. I send out form rejections- not always, but enough. Sometimes I wonder how many form rejections I can send before I lose a little bit of my self. There are real people on the other end of that Submittable tubeway, people that may be struggling for support, validity, and survival in ways that I may not be able to imagine. People that still offer themselves up to the systematically oiled machinations of the writing industry, even though they always wonder if a form rejection is gonna land like a sprinkle of salt on a fresh wound.
We’re fierce, writers. Some of us are fiercer than others because we have to be, and when I find myself rubbing up the wrong way on the equation of real writer = rhino hide + an upper lip of steel, or real editor= professional + swift, I remember that the people that defined professionalism- both in the writing industry and elsewhere- defined it with the assumption that certain others- queers, mothers, women, homeless people, differently-abled people, people of color, survivors- would not, could not, and should not participate, unless we were willing to double jump the rope.
I double jump the rope. Every day. And when I trip, I trip hard- I trip harder than those that are jumping once, because I have more to lose and less to fall back on.
Which brings me to yesterday, and my comments about writing because I like to suffer.
I haven’t had a fiction or poetry piece accepted since April now, when we lived in what I obliquely call Shelter #2. A friend recently asked me if I was crossing over from writer to editor, and I carry that question like a small broken stone in my gut: am I still a writer? Am I?
Tomorrow morning my social worker comes to assess my goal progress. My writing career is not a goal on her list. Instead I am to be processed through Voc Rehab, where my aspirations will be clinically assessed against my measurable abilities. First I will be sent to stack boxes on a night shift. If I fail to measure up, double jump, and play to their goals, we will have to return to the shelters. They may potentially approve a course of self-employment as a writer, if I can prove that it isn’t a “hobby”.
I get lots of professional letters telling me how much we can eat, when I must report for an assessment, whether or not we can see a doctor, and whether or not we can continue to have a roof over our head. As we are poor and disabled, our physical existence must be continually justified on the correct form. An extremely ineffectual bureaucracy of mandatory appointment times and systemic codes informs nearly every realm of our lives.
The form rejections start to sound like the DSHS letters after a while. Am I a writer?, I wonder, when I get another swift “not for us, we wish you well in your future endeavors” email. Am I person?, I wonder, when I am told that I must sign and notarize the time, county, place, and date that I had sex with my child’s father, or my child and I lose Medicaid.
I write because I was born to do it, and I live because I haven’t died. Sometimes that’s all I know.