My girlfriends and I have a Christmas tradition: exchange ornaments, and after, verbally unpack our individual years, one by one, no time restrictions. The only rule we adhere to is that for every low, there must be two highs.
It is July now, months away from ornaments and tinsel, but one full year since I finished my MFA degree, and I feel the same tendencies today to look back and evaluate as I usually do at the close of a calendar. So, will you be my listeners here? My non-sweater-clad friends? All I ask is that you mumble a few hmmms, perhaps nod once in a while. After all, we’ve each experienced the ups and down of something, right?
Here are my writing-related lows of the past twelve months:
1. Glimmer Train did not publish "Preservation."
2. Ploughshares did not publish "Preservation."
3. One Story did not publish "Preservation."
4. "Preservation" was—I felt—my best short story, yet none of my goal journals published it, and I was left wondering (dejectedly) why.
5. I reread it. Wrote a new opening. Deleted the new opening. Skimmed a series of old emails about fondue.
6. Hope became a slippery thing.
7. Sometimes, usually in the morning, I clutched at small spoonfuls of hope—"You will get this grant, your work is a perfect fit, it will all pan out, be patient"—but then I’d receive an email stating "Sorry," and I wouldn’t read the attached feedback, I just couldn't yet, I felt too tired.
8. So I missed the deadline for the next grant.
9. And got many more rejections.
10. And stopped really writing.
11. I began to think that—since I was a white, middle-class, working woman who’d lived a pretty good life, not much struggle, not much unordinary pain, not much grit under my fingernails that I hadn't put there on purpose because I felt I was perhaps too clean—I had nothing important to say.
12. I began to believe this.
1. One Tuesday, on my drive to work, I watched an astonishing sunrise fill up my rearview mirror.
2. I read a friend's brilliant essay and felt inspired.
3. I started a blog.
4. A small literary journal published one of my poems, a poem I’d written years ago, that I'd always loved, that I couldn't understand why others didn't love just as much. The publication contract came with this note: "I absolutely loved this one."
5. I read the poem to my husband and we went out for Thai food.
6. A month later, and then later still, we ordered more bowls of Toam Yum.
7. A letter said that out of 250 applications, I was in the top 80 for a grant I'd practically forced myself to forget I'd applied for. Top 80, big whoop, I told myself. But it was a spoonful. And I held its sweetness on my tongue.
9. I recited e.e. cummings to my students.
10. I told Haley that her story was beautiful, mature, and full of nuanced surprises, and her whole face, her whole body lit up, and my throat tightened.
11. I took them all on a nature walk behind the school.
12. They wrote about it in their journals.
13. I wrote about it in mine.
14. I went to the Arboretum with my camera and found new angles, new ways to look at leaves, new levels of light and shadow.
15. I went home and wrote.
16. I published unproven and sentimental words in my own time, on my own created space, and though every time I was frightened, it got easier.
17. Someone left the comment, "I love this one."
18. Someone else wrote from Greece, sharing that an essay of mine was in a publication that was currently on his coffee table.
19. I paused, thought, refocused, and reminded myself that, yes, these small successes were nice, better, easier to bring to the lips, but what was most important—above any other outcome—was that my words mattered to me.
20. I wrote more place essays. I wrote about Minnesota. I wrote about the lake where I spent my childhood summers.
21. There was a wait, and it was excruciating—full of doubts and purposeful-forgetting—but a nice man named Gus told me yes. One year from now, next summer, "The Lake" will appear in the DNR's Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, one of my goal magazines.
22. Over the Fourth of July, I shared the draft with my family around the campfire.
23. I did not get that grant, but I applied for the next one.
24. I did not place "Preservation." Yet.
25. "Someday,” I promised myself, “You will write a damn good book."
- On July 8, 2011, I believe it.
This essay was also published here at A View From The Loft.