I read the rejection email with one eye shut—the left one one—because it was first thing in the morning and I had no idea where my glasses were. Also? I knew it would be a rejection. I could tell from the first line’s over-exuberant thank you to me for submitting. That first line was trying too hard. It wasn’t worth opening both eyes.
Even though it was only a few hours ago, I can’t remember what I did right after reading it. Did I kiss my son sleeping next to me? Did I rise up on one elbow to see if my husband was still asleep? I have no idea. In the movie about my life, the actress playing me in moments like this will laugh “wryly” or “knowingly.” The line in the screenplay will read: “Christie lets out a quiet-but-wry guffaw, careful not to wake her sleeping family.”
I remember how I felt in the shower. Expectant. I was waiting for the pinpricks of shame and disappointment to riddle my morning. I lathered the shampoo and scanned my vitals: Ego? Heart? Head? Pride? I was looking for fatal or fatal-seeming wounds, but they weren’t there. Seems I was just grazed by the rejection.
When the sleepers all woke up and I finally had both eyes open it was the distracting crush of morning. Making tea, shoving snow pants in a Hello Kitty backpack, writing a note for the babysitter about the tennis lessons this afternoon. No time for angst other than the quotidian pains of trying to get two preschoolers out the door with their full complement of winter apparel.
Walking to work, I felt the rumble of self-accusation. Why didn’t you try harder? Why didn’t you ask for editing help? You didn’t run the submission by anyone! And it’s true. I didn’t. I gave the entire exercise a few hours one morning and dashed it off on the first day they were accepting entries. I could have easily spent the following two weeks editing, honing my point of view, and definitively settling on poignant or humorous. As it was, my submission was an unedited hybrid of sentimental insights and quasi-humorous anecdotes introduced by a semi-offensive opening line.
I wouldn’t have chosen me either.
But if I didn’t want to do it “full out,” why did I allow myself to “phone it in”? It’s not like me to half-ass something. I’m curious about my process and this version of me who turns in substandard work like that. Is this how Jane Goodall felt when she noticed her beloved chimpanzees doing something novel?
By the time I get to work, I decide that maybe this is progress for me. Maybe it’s a huge leap forward to let myself aim for something without killing myself reaching for the target.
Maybe I just didn’t really want to do it and couldn’t admit it to myself. Now, I can passively accept the rejection and not have to take responsibility for the parts of me that are changing—that part of me that was only so-so interested in being in the show (after being enthralled and manic about trying to get in last year), which is why I barely proofread my piece before clicking send.
I decide to read the email again with both eyes. “In the clear light of day,” as my spiritual advisor would say. I check my email and see I’ve already deleted it. I don’t bother to find it the trash. Because I don’t want to, so I let that be enough. For once.