flowersandfence2Last week, I got rejected.

It wasn’t anything personal. Except, you know, it was.

I submitted a manuscript I’ve spent several years on, parts of which have won or been long-listed for awards, and the editor of the press came back to me with a thanks, but no thanks.

Amid the constructive criticism, he said a few great things, but all I heard was a big fat NO.

I admit it. I’ve gotten cocky. Over the past few years, it feels as if all my hard work, almost 25 years of living the writing life, is finally starting to pay off.

So, after I immersed myself in this manuscript over a couple weeks spent at Sage Hill last spring, I think I actually thought that it was pretty much finished.

That the next steps – finding a fitting home, polishing it to that perfect shine, ushering it to its audience – would almost happen independent of me.

As if.

What I really wanted, I think, was what we all want in life: to avoid disappointment.

In this case, to skip over the hard effort of squinting again and again at the work, improving it, refining it.

I wanted it to be easy, not the typical path of learning from rejections, letting them teach me, sucking the marrow out of every bone-brittle NO.

That’s usually the way it works, but instead, this time, as exhausted as I am, as sad as I seem to be most days, I read the email and I thought: Fuck you.

I sat at my mother’s kitchen island and missed with a deep ache what my step-father would have said: Don’t give up.

I heard him so clearly, knew those words so well, that I realized he was with me, right then, in my heart, in my head.

Earlier this week, I went into his office, sat at his desk and got back to work. In my printed-out poems, I’ve found a whole bunch of missed opportunities: for stronger images, sharper verbs, more interesting nouns, cleaner, more musical rhythms. The kind of fine attention to language that makes me very happy.

I understood what the editor had said to me in his critique.

And damn it, I learned from it.

Sometimes it takes rejection, it takes disappointment, to realize how good we can be, how strong.

Image by Ginny