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Friday, October 31, 2014

Facing Rejection as an Artist

My new friend on She Writes, Emily Lackey, wrote a grippingly honest blog post about her struggles with rejection and how it was affecting her ability to write. 

Many writers responded with much wisdom. This has inspired me to post again on my blog, after, oh, okay, months. I'm putting together what I said to Emily, who I compliment for her bravery in putting her fears out there. I told her about my friend, the painter from Marin, who got an assignment from her teacher at art school to go to the galleries around them and come back with ten rejections.

My friend came back to class thrilled: the first four galleries she asked all wanted to show her work.  

The teacher sent her out again. She hadn't done the assignment. She had to keep going until she got those ten rejections. Getting them, getting used to rejections, was part of her job. My friend is a terrific painter. It took her awhile to find ten galleries who would not show her work. Thus, she learned that rejection is just a part of her job. 

Of course, the publishing world today is far tougher than being a painter in Marin County. And life is more complicated than a quick story on a blog. There may be people in our lives who intentionally or unintentionally undermine us. For those we are stuck with, I suggest we develop mental translators that turn their words into: "I'm worried I will lose you if you become successful and I lose control over you." For those we are not, this might be time for a good house-cleaning. And to those who undermine yet are no longer with us, except for the versions we carry in our own heads, I recommend we say, with love, "Hello, how nice to see you again, Mom/Ex-husband/ex-best friend. Lovely to have this mental visit. Okay, bye now." 

Another wise author, Debra Borchert, also from SheWrites, responded to Emily's cry of pain by reminding us all that rejection hurts. She says we should go ahead and feel that pain, instead of rushing past it. I fully agree. I do my best to teach my kids (and myself) that disappointment is a fact of life and should be honored with our sadness and anger. Life hurts. When my kid loses a helium balloon at the park, I worry about the birds, and hold my child while they cry, and say no thank you to the well-meaning folk who want to give them another to make up for the loss. I believe that the knowledge that we should let our selves feel that is terribly liberating. Before I was cast in my most important role as an actor, I heard those around me try to tell themselves that they didn't want to care to much in case they didn't get the part. I told myself that I was going to go to bed for a week if I lost this part, but by God, I was going to really want it. Really want it, like gut level, got to have this, want it. (And the experience itself was one of those disasters that caused everyone involved years of pain. But that's a different story.) 

There's another thing for me to remember. I write because if I don't, I get nutty. My family can tell when I'm not doing daily writing work. So can I. I said in response to Emily's post that I don't write because I crave success, and that's partly true. I do want success. I want the financial freedom to travel for the research I need to do for the next novel. I want my work to create catharsis that opens minds and informs. Most of all, I am chomping at the bit to take what I have learned and become a voice for empathy and insight into the world. 

But the truth is, I write because I have to. I said that to my husband on our very first date, that I might never be financially successful, but I would always be a writer. Look, it's like this: two days ago, I taught my littlest an old Viola Spolin theater game. You immerse yourself in an animal of someone else's choice. You put yourself into that animal's body and persona, their essence. Gradually, you pull the animal back to a person who is doing an activity, also given by an outsider. My kid stunned me with the marvelous giraffe lady she created, the slow motions, the lanky gait, blinky eyes, the mouth chewing sideways as she spoke.

We create, we humans, because we must. It's part of our genetic makeup. The market place, all the rest of it, that's just a kind of illusion layered over the creativity. Yes, it's important, I suppose, to share our work, to bring it back from the hunt and do the animal dance around our communal fire-pit. The community, too, needs that shared animal dance, doesn't it? They need our stories to translate the dark around us. We all need to laugh at what frightens us most, to find ways to handle our envy of those who have what we long for, to learn how to survive the rush of love and manage the keening harshness of loss. Those of us who are no longer tribal might not get to actually sit around a communal fire-pit. That's what movies and theater and novels and short stories and music and painting are all about. I think that's important to remember, too. Our work does serve a purpose. 

Even without that, though, I would write. I write because I have to. It's how I make sense of the world and has been since my first journal when I was eight. I write, because, like a miniature God, I need to recreate the world around me to better understand it. 

Let's all think about this some more. 

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