Rejected but not dejected. Onwards!

 

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Maira Kalman

 

No art ever came out of not risking your neck.— Eudora Welty

Well, I got a rejection email today! Before I get mired in disappointment, I’m going to write this out of my system. I think processing emotions is why so many people write, it’s a way to release feelings through a weird combination of contemplation and openness. I’d been prepared for this day and is why I shared my submission process on Facebook. I’m sure more than one person thought, “how self-absorbed…who cares about your writing?…how narcissistic can you be?!” (Wow, that was negative, huh?) I knew there was a high probability I’d get rejected and I thought sharing the process would keep me honest and stop me from spiraling into crippling disappointment. It’s only been a few hours, but so far my plan is working, I think?

I spent about 20 hours over six weeks writing my submissions to apply for this workshop and it was more effort than I’ve ever made in the past. It was a lot of work but I’m going to fight hard not to lose motivation over a small setback. In the past, I’ve been very lousy at handling rejection. At the slightest mistake, I’d crumble into self-pitying despair, roll into a ball on a sofa and watch Golden Girls for as long as possible. Then, I’d wake up with manic energy, drink heavily and forge a path of self-destruction. This was how I coped with failure for many years. It would have never occurred to me to sit down, write and bang out words in the face of defeat! Nope, I’d just run away like a whimpering child and look for anything to divert my attention from the crushing sense of inadequacy. I’d never sit with my disappointment or try to feel it. I see now that there is an energy that comes with sadness, it’s like an ember hidden deep within a fire pit waiting to be fanned. So, this is progress, right here, right now, I’m back at the keyboard!

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I’m not sure why I have this deep and sort of delusional need to write, but I do. Writing is a part of my identity, real or not, and it brings me happiness to play with words and ideas. And before anybody tries to calm me down, I do think it’s a delusion to aspire to an artistic life. To write is a selfish act, it takes time away from my family and diverts focus from my career. It’s also a bit entitled to make time to write and have space to follow a passion. So in the grand scheme of things, I realize not being accepted to a writer’s workshop is not the end of the world. I will continue to write, I have all the tools I need. I have my mind, my ideas, a computer, even paper and pen, a stolen half hour here and there, and all of Saturday morning to type away adding more to my book or writing this blog. Nothing can take this away from me except for the evil forces of self-doubt and fear. (Stay Back)!!

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And I’ve run away from writing for too many years to know that ignoring this drive also leaves me unfulfilled, no matter how well I’m doing in my personal and professional life. At times, it does feel ridiculous to put so much energy into something that doesn’t have a clear external reward. Writing is scary because so many of us will never see the light of day as authors, but I sit here and shrug it off because I don’t feel I have much choice. Trust me, my first thought when I got the email today was, why am I doing this? I just wasted so much time! What is the purpose? Ahh, and there it is, the key. We all strive to have a purpose. I know it’s so over-used to say this, but once you tap into what gives you intrinsic fulfillment, it’s very hard to turn back. You can’t just say, forget it!  I don’t want to keep doing something that I enjoy because it’s too hard, it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make any money, and I won’t achieve anything. Unless self-doubt and fear are ruling your head, then these thoughts will win. Begone fear! Begone self-doubt!

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So, here is an excerpt from the short, non-personalized rejection email I received today,

This year we received a large number of applications and unfortunately are unable to offer you a seat in either of your workshop choices. You should not view this as a reflection on the quality of your work, but more a space/capacity issue…we have a finite number of seats and have an application ratio of 5:1.

Anyhow, I disagree, this was a reflection of the quality of my work because my acceptance was based on my submission and if it was good I’d have a seat, duh! Yesterday, in anticipation, I re-read my submission and I thought it was horrible. Now, I know most writers think their drafts are crap, so this could be a sign that I’m onto something genius. But my prose submission needed a lot more polish and I made a big error and didn’t reach out for help with proofreading my prose. I realized this mistake a few days before the submission was due because a dear friend was editing my essay questions and her strong red pen and direction helped me make enormous improvements in my personal statement. I enjoyed the editing process, she helped me clarify ambiguity and highlight my passion for the workshop. It struck me that I kept my prose piece close to my chest. Obviously, I still have some fear of feedback that I need to get over. I should have asked for input and direction from other writers. Also, I realize I need to practice and work on my writing chops! I make grammatical mistakes, write tired metaphors, use the dreadful passive voice and struggle with comma usage. I think I have a strong narrative voice and maybe some good ideas. But I worry that my plot is derivative and boring, and my characters are unlikeable, and I have no structure or idea how to end my story!  I have so much to learn about the craft. I must continue practicing and sharing my work. Luckily, I have a long list of writer’s groups, conferences, workshops, meetups, open-mic readings and writer friends all within my reach. Honestly, this is why I moved to the Bay Area nearly 18 years ago, with the hope to build a literary life. Although it’s not exactly fully-formed, I can see a narrow path widen to an open field of creativity.

One last note, it’s notable that there was a 5:1 ratio of applicants to space in this writer’s workshop that is aimed at giving writers of color opportunity to share ideas. The literary world is still very white and elitist, and although change is happening, there is a long way to go! I had thought I had the right amount of passion and skill to attend this workshop, but right now it’s not in my cards. I will submit again next year, and I will spend more time on my prose submission. But in the meantime, I hope to see more opportunities and advancement for writers that are not from the publishing establishment, or that don’t come from elite MFA programs. Now more than ever writers of color and minority voices need to share our stories, to humanize and reclaim narratives. Admittedly, I do feel disappointed about not being accepted to the workshop, but all I can do is write. Maybe I will also eat some cake and have a cup of tea, or climb a tree, or go on a hike, or visit a stream— you know, civilized wound licking

 

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Maira Kalman

 

Why my cat is voting for Hillary but I’m not.

FullSizeRenderRecently, my seven-daughter asked me why I wasn’t supporting Hillary Clinton. I explained it was a primary vote, and right now I choose Bernie Sanders because I like his message more than Hillary. My daughter kind of understood but then unequivocally told me she backs Hillary because she wants to see a woman as President. I told her that was a good reason, and I want to see that too. I also promised her if Hillary won the primary I’d vote for her, and we’d both go to the polling place together. She started making Hillary campaign posters and posted them around the house. She even made one for our cat and proclaimed feline allegiance to Hillary! Even though the cat had no choice in the matter, I didn’t worry about influencing my daughter’s (and kitty’s) vote because her reasoning was as sound as many other adult women. Plus, I got a kick out of the fact that she came to her own conclusions. That’s all I want for my girl, to use her mind, speak up and remain confident. Apparently, the poor cat is going to have to go along with her owner!

What I didn’t tell her is that I don’t find Hillary Clinton very inspiring, anymore. There was a time, way back in the 90’s, when I watched the First Lady of the United States fight tooth and nail for health care reform. I was an unemployed, dropout, living a textbook Generation X slacker lifestyle. It was a drab, low-energy, uninspiring time. But there she was a lone woman, at a table, sparring with senators ready to take her down. I related, I too felt the men in my life were taking me down. I tried to one up them, playing pool, smoking cigarettes, wearing combat boots and overalls. I didn’t like being told I couldn’t do something because I was a woman. If I was, I tried to be better than a man, even if it was a loser’s cause. And so Hillary became an inspiration, she was fighting for healthcare for all, and was emotional, transformational, and well-versed. She had answers for everything, and the men came off as hysterical and combative. All in all, I thought she rocked!

I still reflect upon this memory of Hillary and I know there is still a part of her that remembers this time. Obviously, she has skill, tact, and political prowess. She can think on her feet, with intelligence, steely composure and book smarts. But, Hillary doesn’t move me anymore, she doesn’t speak my language or inspire confidence. I do hesitate to write this because I’m aware that as a woman running for President of the United States she is getting a special dose of sexist treatment from the media, in stupid memes, and of course from her opponents. I don’t think some of the criticism lobbed against her time and again is totally legitimate, for example having to explain her husband’s illicit behaviors. But I do believe that she should be brought to task for some questionable activities in her long political history. It’s also not fair for her to call foul when she is criticized, especially since she and her surrogates play a nasty game of insidious political takedowns. She is no longer the newcomer, the wife of the President taking on a cause that was really a side project. Now she has created her own political legacy and she should be held to that record. I am not a fan of her corporate ties and her interventionist and harmful foreign policy that ally with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Yes, the cynical point of view is that all politicians are bought out by corporations, court lobbying groups and shake hands with despots and corrupt rulers abroad. Just because everyone does it, shouldn’t invalidate concern. I felt this way eight years ago and as time has passed and more evidence has been brought out, it’s evident she owes political favors that conflict with her ever-changing campaign message. And finally, I would have been inspired to support the first woman in the Oval Office if she had less baggage than Hillary. Despite the efforts of Hillary’s cronies to paint all criticism of her as misogynistic and sexist, I think it’s a fair assessment that she does have a pretty thorny background.

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More importantly, I don’t believe her trickle down feminism will benefit women as much as she’d like us to believe. I’ve heard her say something like “we deserve to show our daughters that they can become anything they want even the President of the United States of America.” But there is so much more our daughters deserve to see! If girls want to be anything they want they deserve equal access to quality public education, beginning in early childhood through high school in particular. Girls deserve to have access to women’s health and progressive sexual education. Girls deserve justice when they are raped, molested and assaulted and not discredited, blamed for being too sexy, or drunk. Girls deserve to date boys that are also educated about consent and respect for their bodies. Girls deserve to be called on in class. Girls deserve to be bossy, smart, intelligent without impacting their confidence. Girls deserve to live in a country that is safe from guns, terrorism, and war. And while girls deserve to see more women in leadership, I also believe that girls deserve to see women in a variety of roles. We need to honor the hard work of the invisible and not just worship the visible and elite achievements of women in office, or movies, or music, or social media.

And I know, Hillary thinks she deserves to be President and I can see why, but for me this is not reason enough. There are a lot of women that deserve more than they have right now, and they don’t have the power or voice to ever be heard. Hillary often says, “I will fight for your support, I will do what it takes.” But she supports the continuation of economic policies that make it difficult for working families to get ahead. I know Hillary is endorsed by Planned Parenthood, but here again, I don’t feel that gets to the root of the issues that face all women. We know that economic inequality impact women’s day to day lives more than ever. The change that needs to take place starts here and I believe that reforming our economic policies will do more improve women’s health, education, and careers. Focusing on Planned Parenthood and abortion rights is only looking at a symptom but not addressing the root causes, it’s an aid, not a solution.

IMG_0884I wish I could say all of this to my daughter and maybe I will just rant to the kitty one afternoon! I know one day my intelligent child will make her own connections. After all, the arc of history changes perspective doesn’t it? Perhaps the feminist inspiration that I seek, where women in leadership display integrity, vulnerability, softness, and inclusion will become the norm for my daughter’s generation. Because right now, what is missing for me, is there isn’t enough respect for the true power of womanhood. I want to see women celebrate feminity, not as a reaction to stereotypes created by men, but forging our own identities. We are mothers, sisters, daughters, and we give life, nurture change, nudge our husbands, brothers, sons and fathers to do more. Luckily, I do see more of this message on the horizon. And while we may see a woman break the glass ceiling in DC, the real change is happening in our homes, communities and workplaces. A female President that still plays by the old rules and propels foreign and domestic policies that don’t protect our interests as a nation is just a symbolic gesture. But don’t tell my cat, she still thinks its cool to see a lady as President.