The Future, Small Children, and Facing Rejection

The other night I was drifting off to sleep, contemplating the impending doom of a feminist criticism presentation, and dreading the horrible nature of a seminar leader who possesses the altogether undesirable quality of forcing an individual to speak for ten minutes in a country where everyone thinks said individual sounds like some sort of foreign hick by dint of simply not possessing the much-sought-after British accent.

In any case, as I was tossing and turning and wondering if it would snow the next day and craving nutella, a certain phrase drifted across my panic-stricken conscious (let’s not argue about the meaning of conscious—that’s for another day, when my philosophy chops are up to the effort). The phrase was as follows: “The future is a hazy continuum of extravagant possibility”.

I don’t know what I was contemplating in another fairly pretentious region of my brain to prompt such a phrase, but I do know that when my brain happens to produce something that sounds snotty and marvelous, I write it down. Immediately. Or sleepily type it into the notes on my phone. Whichever is more convenient.

On waking up I remembered quite rightly that I had something about which to be intensely pleased after completing the presentation. Scanning the notes of my phone, I came across the phrase, and stared at it for a few minutes. It wasn’t so much of a “what even does that mean” or a “when did I decide to write a young-adult novel about finding yourself”—it was more of a “what was I getting at and why did I think this mattered enough to write down at two in the morning”.

At this particular point the best I can say is that I got to use the word “continuum”, which I have always loved and, while I’m at it, a few more words that are over  three syllables.  I was most intrigued by the fact that it was “the future” and not “my future”. Because clearly it was the despondent and slightly terrifying existence of my impending starving artist-hood to which I was referring. What was even more interesting is that this bleary thought constituted a belief in linear time, generally frowned upon by my Nietzschian existential learning. Not important.

The point, I suppose, is that this statement felt profound, but I don’t really know why, or if it is. And I’ve decided this is a fluent and accurate description of my creative life, and how I approach my own work as a writer. In my case, I am a small and insignificant junior in college, experimenting rather desperately in a creative capacity by method of trial and error. I am at the point where I write something down and stare at it for a good three hours before I decide if it’s profound or disgustingly sentimental, if it’s derivative or original, if it has any chance of appealing to me a year from now or if it will remind me of my prepubescent angsty poetry days.

Honestly, I don’t know how to evaluate my own “worth” as writer—or more specifically, the worth of the work I produce. Whether it can be evaluated objectively or subjectively is not the point to my overwrought mind—what does it matter to me? I want it to be something “good”. Someone, somewhere needs to tell me this to make me feel better about it. This can be confronted in two ways. The first way is that, as the famous advice goes, you need to produce a lot of trash before you can be any good, so keep writing, try and submit your work to different places, face rejection, take constructive criticism, and keep trying. The second is that you can write a bunch of things and never have the courage to show anyone and die and someone finds the piles of poems scribbled on napkins and novel beginnings tucked away on in some folder, and maybe someone thinks it’s decent, and you are published posthumously and become famous.

I like the first option a lot better. It’s scarier, and more intimidating, sure. Putting yourself “out there”, so to speak, is one of the most difficult, nail-biting, anxiety-inducing, considering-becoming-a-recluse-for-the-sake-of-pride insecurities young writers face. Heck, any writer I’m sure. I’m only speaking for the young ones because I’m one of them, and I’ve had my fair share of criticism, rejections, acceptance, and so on.

So, this little phrase that I dreamed up for no particular reason, about the future, is a lot more optimistic than I imagine myself to be. The future is “extravagant”; it’s full of “possibility”. Then again, it’s hazy, right? It’s cloudy and you know, fog makes everyone a little deaf and a little blind, and then you throw a manuscript or a poem or a short story into the gloom and hope nice things are thrown back. Sometimes you get an assortment of unkind objects thrown back—lots of “dear writer”s, and “we thank you for your submission but”s . So yes, you’re risking your pride by releasing into the vast beyond your creative baby, the brainchild of your secret genius, the infant fathered by blood, and mothered by sweat-and-tears.

This is the truth, as plain as I can say it: you’re going to fail. A lot.

Or at least talk to people who perceive you as a failure. Or who think what you’ve produced is a failure. And it’s rough. It takes a steely mentality to deal with that kind of pressure, and that kind of critique.

But think of it this way. You’ve got this little work of creativity, this literary toddler, and you’re holding his hand and taking him to preschool. You could pause at the door and decide that, hey, he’s got a few more years until he really needs to go to school. He should just stay home, eat goldfish crackers and watch Dora the Explorer, not head out into the real world for a few years. Also your heart will remain unbroken and that bottle of wine you bought at Walmart will remain unopened until your anniversary. Or, you could kiss him quickly on the cheek as you hold back tears, pushing him through the doors—into a world of extravagant possibility.

Break open the wine, kids. You did it.

About Jackie DeRobertis