Monday, December 31, 2012

Resolve: 2013

Yesterday, my husband handed me an Esquire magazine article about James Lee Burke, one of his favorite authors. "I really want you to read this," he said. "You need to read this."

I probably rolled my eyes, but since the husband bakes things like homemade Twinkies, I have to oblige him occasionally. I read the article.

Turns out, Burke had a great many interesting things to say -- but I immediately knew why Mark had insisted I read the piece.

In the "What I've Learned" article (Esquire magazine, January 2013),
Burke stated, "My book The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times before it was eventually published by Louisiana State University Press. When you get thoroughly rejected -- and I mean thoroughly rejected -- you realize you do it for the love of the work. And you stay out of the consequences. I developed one rule for myself: Never leave a manuscript at home more than thirty-six hours. Everything stays under submission. Never accept defeat."

You know why the husband was adamant that I read that? Because I never, ever submit anything for publication (you read my nonsense; you know why I give it away for free).

There was one exception.

Several years ago, when I was home with two little kids and had endured all of Barney and the Wiggles I could take (which isn't much; the CIA could learn things here), I wrote a personal essay on the war on dandelions. It wasn't half bad. On a whim, I submitted it to Southern Living magazine, thinking it a good fit. Although I had been a journalist in my pre-kiddo days and had numerous articles printed in newspapers, I was a first-time submitter to that glossy magazine world.

A few weeks later, I ventured to the mailbox and was shocked to find an envelope from Southern Living. What the heck? Could it possibly be? My hands shook as I tore it open. Inside was a personal letter from one of the editors. My heart was pounding as I read....

...a rejection letter.

I was younger then, and probably wearing sweats covered in mashed sweet potatoes from the baby, and the only thing I could see as I stood in my garage with that letter was rejection.

Well, I gave it a shot, I said. It's not going to happen for me, I thought.

I remember telling Mark this story once upon a time, when he asked why I never submitted anything for publication. Instead of accepting the end of my story, he probed further.

"But you actually got a letter back?" he asked. "From one of the magazine's editors?"

"Yes," I said. "A REJECTION letter." (What part of this story was he not getting?)

"So this busy editor actually took the time to write you back about your submission?"

"Um, yeah," I said, "I guess she did."

"And what did it say?" he asked.

I tried to remember the non-rejection part. As I recalled, she was somewhat encouraging. Today, I dug it out (yes, I saved it, like a battle scar). This, friends, is what the letter said:

Thank you very much for sending your essay, "Dandelion Dreams" for consideration in our Southern Journal column.

We enjoyed reading the essay and found it to be very interesting, but we are unable to use it in the column. As you can imagine, we receive a large volume of submissions and only twelve can be selected each year to appear. Every editor reads things differently, and every publication looks for different qualities in its writing. With that in mind, we are returning your essay to you in hopes that you can place it elsewhere.

Did I ever try to place it elsewhere? No. Did I ever submit anything else to Southern Living, knowing I had the editor's attention? No. Did I ever submit anything, anywhere? No.

Tender, fragile ego. How easily I accepted defeat.

Perhaps I should have seen then that the editor at least found my essay worthy of a letter to me. Sure, other writers likely received similar, if not the same, letter, but it was incredibly kind of her to take the time to (a). read my essay (b). consider it (and did "we" mean others considered it, too?) and (c). send me an encouraging letter back.

I see that now.

This is what the husband has been trying to tell me for a while. It is why he has gifted me with subscriptions to writing and literary magazines. It is why he buys me the works of my favorite poets. It is why he shares Burke's statement with me. It is why I love him so.

He believes in me.

Maybe it's time for an older, hopefully wiser, undoubtedly stronger, writer-me to believe in myself and take Burke's words to heart: Never accept defeat. Do it for the love of the work. Stay out of the consequences. It's a new year, ripe with possibilities and opportunities. And yes, laundry, but I never do that, anyway.

Thanks, honey, for the reminder. And for the homemade Twinkies I'll need to sustain me while I write (hint hint).

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