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I Sent Out 126 Rejection Letters Today

3 Jul

Believe me, it wasn’t easy. I plowed through only one-and-a-half of three stacks of submissions, logging out short stories, essays, and poetry. As I worked, I read through cover letters, paged through submissions,and scanned through the editors’ comments, thinking: dang, how hard is it?

The answer: really hard.

Writer's Block 1I read submissions by writers from the Iowa Workshop, from professors at Emory and Harvard, from multiple graduates of Princeton, Yale, and all the other Ivies. There were writers who had been published in The New Yorker and The New York Times, writers whose stories had been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories or had won Pushcart Prizes—lists of accolades and accomplishments that baffled me.

There were writers who had no formal training, but had excellent stories; writers who had formal training, but wrote as if they were in high school. There were teen-age writers, writers in their 70s just starting out, even a writer who had sent his hand-written submission from a criminal insane asylum.

At the end of the day, I was weary of those yellow slips. I’ve just started sending out my own stories, and though I know the road to success is paved with rejection slips, I worry about the future. How many writers kept trying, when they should have given up? Worse still, how many writers gave up, when they could have been great if they’d only kept submitting?

I went back to those cover letters: all those writers who had won incredible awards, who had been published in so many other prestigious magazines and reviews. They were succeeding, even though I was sending them each a rejection letter.

A rejection from one magazine, for one story, doesn’t mean a writer is untalented. Rejections from multiple magazines for multiple stories doesn’t mean a writer should give up, either. Just like lovers, some writers and magazines fit each other, while others do not.

Beyond that, though, all writers can improve their work and thereby increase their odds. The best way to do so is to continue writing, continue revising, and continue submitting.

If we’re lucky, we may even get a hand-written rejection note from a wise editor: for my green soul, that would be gold.

Until then, all we can do is keep on keepin’ on.

If It’s the Right Kind of Small

1 Jul

I unearthed the following post, long buried and forgotten, in the deep recesses of my computer. The post arrives here today from a few years back, when I had just started a short-lived blog called “Love in the Time of Question Marks.”

I’ve long since deleted the blog, and with good reason, but the following first entry offers insight into who I was, and more importantly, who I wanted (and still want) to be.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This is for myself.

I’m sitting in a college dorm room, my freshman year of college, and outside my window there are marble (or marble look-alike) ionic columns and green, green trees and pink fading light on a pale blue sky. There’s a jar of white chocolate Flipz and another of Twining’s Lady Grey Tea packets, and today feels like a new beginning. Or at least I want it to be.

It’s my third week of college, and it’s not how I imagined it at all. I’ve idealized these four “short” years all my life. My parents told me about how they would stay out late and talk about philosophy far into the night, crammed into the corners of gritty cafes and feeling so immensely whole and alive. They weren’t beatniks or hippies or anything. They were healthy, good-looking, and normal. Yes, my mother was on the debate team, and yes, my father held night-long Risk tournaments with Star Wars fanatics, but they were normal enough. So all my life, I imagined the same for myself. I imagined the type of conversation that felt so good and deep and mysterious that it sank right through your skin and sent tingles up and down your arms. That’s what I wanted.

And now I’m here, sitting in my dorm room, as some of my hall mates pass in and out and around, but it’s not the same. Senior year in high school, you know everything. More importantly, you know everyone. There were only 140 of us (that seemed so big four years ago, coming from a middle school of 55) so by the end, I was pretty well versed in a lot of the details of the lives of my peers. I knew their favorite vacation spots and the number of siblings they had, without even having conversations with a few of them. It was that small. It’s still small here. There are only about 1,700 freshman. But that’s a big jump.

It’s not like it isn’t bad or anything, I just feel like I don’t know anyone. It frustrates me. No one knows me, either. But now, after three weeks, it’s not like the first three days. You don’t just walk up to someone, stick out your hand like a grinning idiot, and say “Hi, I’m Liz, what’s your name? Nice to meet you Bob. Where are you from? Me, I’m from Texas. What’s your major…blah blah blah.” Now we’ve all, apparently, been put into our toddler friend groups and I keep wondering — where’s mine?

Yes, I’ve got friends. But where are the ones just like me? I’ve was lucky enough to have grown up with two best friends. We were best friends in Pre-School, and we’re best friends now. That doesn’t happen in big cities very often, but it happened to me. So now it seems like I’ve lost quite a lot, and I’m just wondering when I’m supposed to begin to feel whole again. I thought it would happen immediately, but the opposite is true. The first week, I was filled with excitement, a balloon about to pop. And now, all the helium is seeping out, day by day. I just hope I don’t look as wilted when it’s all over. I hope I can fill myself up before then.

In order to make myself feel better about it all, I’ve decided to pick up a side occupation – this. And maybe it will help me feel more connected with the greater world as a whole, or maybe it will make me feel even smaller than normal. Sometimes small can be good, though, if it’s the right kind of small.

Anyways, we’ll see.

I’m Going to Austin for the Weekend!

22 Jun

I’ve been traveling all night and have finally been reunited with my long-toothed canine friend, Ms. Maggie Mae (glamor shot featured below). I’ll be out with the family in Austin this weekend, so there won’t be much time for blogging.

But, because everything is BIGGER in Texas, this post has two quotes AND two pictures (you’re welcome):

“Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.” – John Steinbeck

All good dogs go to Texas! Says Maggie Mae: “Ooh, I just LOVE the Lone Star State!”

And, from the creator of Lonesome Dove:

Only a rank degenerate would drive 1500 miles across Texas without eating a chicken fried steak.” ― Larry McMurtry

Mr. McMurtry forgot to mention the 7-inch lemon meringue pies from Elgin that are so airy they nearly float off the plate. You have to be a true rank degenerate to skip on one of those mouth-watering delectations.

A whopper of a pie

Until we meet again, bye-bye y’all.

I Learn By Going Where I Have to Go

20 Jun

I’ve been reading poetry lately, and it’s soaked into me, like sunlight into skin: there’s a rhythm, real or imagined, that falls into the body, a measure of breaths, thoughts, steps.

Today I wake with Roethke in my head: “I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.”

A villanelle is a wondrous thing. Only two rhyme sounds, and they stay with you. Refrains repeat themselves within the poem, then within your head.

My favorite villanelle: Roethke’s “The Waking.” Every time I return to it, or it returns to me, something shifts. The lines are reborn, and we meet again, strangers who knew each other long ago, but had forgotten.

“I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.”

This morning I slide to the kitchen in socks. Brew coffee, microwave oatmeal. Swirl congealed oats around the bowl, rest my chin on the rim of the coffee mug. Steam rises, warming my face.

I pack a backpack with books, a water bottle, and sandwiches.

I want a good walk—a few hours of outdoors, a space of time to be alone but not feel lonely. Three miles down the road, there’s such a place to amble: a 300-acre sweep of hills, gardens, and hiking trails that border the Middle Oconee River.

“I learn by going where I have to go.”          

I start on a trail that loops down to the river. The fractured trunk of a Red Oak rises from the ground, its splintered bust like a wooden stalagmite. I reach for the camera, but find that I’ve left it at home.

“We think by feeling. What is there to know?


I hear my being dance from ear to ear.


I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.”

The river is quiet. A broken tree cuts through the water, its trunk cracked and fallen, and its branches comb the current. I make a sketch—outlining frail leaves, the curve of the river, and the break in the trunk. I use a thick ballpoint pen—not great for sketching, but good enough. I finish the drawing and walk on.

The trail diverges from the river and winds through the hills, the path carved out from the woods. Creek water sings over black stones and amber minnows dart in shallow, vernal pools. A dragonfly with black wings and an emerald body hovers over a leaf.

“Of those so close beside me, which are you?


God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,


And learn by going where I have to go.”

The canopy stencils sunlight onto the trunks of trees, across the dry, tattered ground. A white mushroom with a roseate cap lies trampled on the path.

“Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?

The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;


I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.”

A philosopher-vandal has walked these paths before me, lettering the wooden planks of footbridges with a sharpie. Each bridge holds a message, and I read them as I walk:

“Do more good.” “Be mindful.” “Do you have more than you need?” “How much does your life weigh?” The planks echo under my shoes.

I enter a valley, lush with tall, leafy plants, and see a young buck, a doe, and a fawn traipse through the growth. A giant bee, thick as my thumb, lands on my forearm. I don’t flick it off, afraid it will return, vengeful, and sting. I carry it across the valley, its bright body gleaming on my skin.

“Great Nature has another thing to do


To you and me, so take the lively air,


And, lovely, learn by going where to go.”

As the valley meets the woods, I meet a man with fuzzy hair tied back in a ponytail. I ask him what to do about the bee, if it will sting me. He leans over, studying it, and it flies away. He says it’s not a bee, but an imitator. More of a beetle, really. I’m not sure if I believe him. Thanks, I say, I was terrified.

“This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.


What falls away is always. And is near.
”

The trail finishes out in the parking lot. I get in my car, go home, take a shower, nap. Later I walk to the grocery to buy yogurt. I read a short story on my porch, go to a coffee shop to write. I talk to Amir, a grad student, about Atlanta. I walk home, sit, post this. It is late.

“I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.


I learn by going where I have to go.

Thanks for Making Me a Writer, Dad

17 Jun

Dad and I, making model airplanes together.

Thanks for making me a writer, Dad.

There are a lot of reasons why I want to write fiction, and you’re one of them.

You taught me everything in those books on the wall. You let me wear a pink princess dress while we painted model airplanes. You told me about monsters with long-reaching tentacles who lived under my bed. You made me read books I didn’t want to read: The Great War and Modern Memory, Dune, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenancethose books have changed my life.

You read me Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt,” H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Those stories scared the shit out of  me, and that’s a good thing.

You took me on trips to far-away places.

You taught me how to draw.

You told me the histories of queens, not princesses. You gave me paper dolls of women writers and women revolutionaries. You told me about Boudicca, the Celtic Warrior Queen.

You let me type up mermaid stories on your computer.

Later, when I wrote a story about a world without stars, you gave me Arthur C. Clarke. Then you made me watch Stanley Kubrick films, Blade Runner, The Twilight Zone, and Aliens.

You gave me The Writer’s Market for years—ever since I was 12—and opened up a whole world to me. I flipped through the pages, marveling over the possibilities.

You bought me a subscription to The New Yorker, just so I could read the stories.

You’ve also been the only one who’s wanted me to be a writer all along, ever since I was that little awkward nerdy kid, bringing a book to the restaurant and reading under the table.

Thanks Dad, for everything. Happy Father’s Day.

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Nothing But Vegetables

16 Jun

“A vegetable garden in the beginning looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables.” – Gertrude Stein

I went to the Farmer’s Market this morning. Everything was bright and fresh. But these are only vegetables. Vegetables get eaten.

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Baudelaire: Your New Weekend Wingman

15 Jun

“It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.” – Charles Baudelaire

Dashing fellow, isn’t he?