Friday, May 1, 2009

Living the Dream

A literary journal rejected me in a brand new way today.

About three months ago, I submitted a short story to a fairly large publication (which we’ll just call Prestigious Lit), and I didn’t hold out much hope that they’d want me. My hard-earned cynicism paid off, because just as I’d thought, they didn’t. Don’t you just love being right? But don’t talk to me about self-fulfilling prophecies…after all, they didn’t know that I knew…well, you know what I mean.

But it’s all good, because I’ve gotten sooooo suave at receiving rejection letters to my inbox these days. I’d like to think I’m a real pro: I read, take a nonchalant sip of coffee, feel almost nothing, then move on to my next message.

Then yesterday, I received this email:

“Writers, we need your bios asap. Please submit within two calendar days as we’re hoping to get the May issue out in two weeks.”

Yep, it’s from Prestigious Lit. So, um….what? I emailed the editor back, kindly reminding her that she rejected me, and the situation being such, I therefore feel very little motivation or reason to write her a bio blurb. No, I said it nicely. Just a quick I-think-there‘s-been-an-error message.

Then I waited a day. And that’s where my new, cool, cynical self began to crack a bit, and I allowed myself to think: well, maybe the rejection was an error, not the bio email. Because that’s equally logical, right, if not a tad pathetic?

So today, I’m not quite as suave as I sip my coffee and open my email. This is her message:

"I’m so sorry for the mistake. Your story made our final round, and I and another editor liked it enough to keep it in the pool until all editors read it. Unfortunately, the final decision was negative, but I kept your name on the list of writers in hopes that the decision would be reversed. ( I hoped one of the editors would change his mind.) Yesterday, I sent to message to all writers without re-checking."

I ask you: what exactly am I supposed to make of that? It almost sounds as though she was trying to sneak me into the magazine, which cracks me up. Ooops…busted!

Maybe I should write that bio after all: This is Amy Whitley's first rejection from Prestigious Lit. During the course of her writing career, she's been rejected by numerous publications, and her work has not been featured in several top magazines. Amy makes her home in Oregon, with her husband and three kids.

You just have to laugh.

And it’s ok, it truly is, because I write every day, submit regularly, and I’d like to think I’m getting better at both of these skills. But here’s the thing: I live in terror of my children looking at my day-to-day life and thinking I “do” nothing. I also live in terror of my children being taught, mostly by my own implication, that devoting my time to parenting them and running our household is “nothing.” It’s quite the vicious circle.

I was stewing about this just last week, when, on the way to a soccer game, Nate asked me, “Could I play soccer when I grow up, like for money and stuff?”

I paused, unsure whether he meant his question in the theoretical sense: could a person, if said person were a fabulous soccer player… or whether he meant it in the literal sense: could I, as a solid member of the fourth grade Team Thunder…

I decided to hope he meant the theoretical. “If a person were very, very, good, then yes, they might play professionally and get paid to play soccer.”

Of course, he had meant the literal. “But Mom, do you think I could?”

Sorry, no. A thousand times no. “Maybe!”

Don’t judge me! If you can’t hope for your dream job at age nine, when can you? But I’d forgotten how practical Nate is. “Well, in case I don’t make it, I’d better have a back up.”

A fall-back. At age nine. What is the world coming to?

“I’m good at math,” he said, “so if for some reason I don’t make professional soccer, I’ll be a math teacher.” He turned to Calvin, who, in no great surprise, has said that he, too, plans to be a professional soccer player. “What’s your back-up, Calvin?”

Calvin is less practical. He also possesses enough self-confidence for about five people. He thought for a moment, then answered, “Professional baseball player.”

The child has never played a game of baseball in his life.

At first I had to squelch the urge to laugh. Ok, perhaps I did laugh, just a little. Trust me, Calvin can take it. But then it occurred to me that perhaps, this stubborn assumption that he is capable of obtaining the unlikely was learned from me. After all, in my desire for them to know I do more than just the dishes around here, I’m candid with my kids about my writing attempts, both the moderate successes and the more grand-scale failures. Because of this, they know that I’m working every day toward something I have not yet achieved, and may never achieve. I’d like to think I’m teaching persistence, optimism, and realism. And at the end of the day, I think that’s a good lesson.

And who knows…maybe they’ll end up better soccer players than I am a writer. Or better whatever-they-end-up-striving-to-be. And they’ll know from watching me that it doesn’t happen instantly, and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all, and that either way, the set-backs and obstacles are survivable; that who you are doesn‘t have to equal what you do.

And in the meantime, I hope they know that being their mother has never been my fall-back.
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