The road of rejection

Let me begin by recognizing the historic ruling against California’s Proposition 8. A judge overturned the ban against same-sex marriage, and though we’ll have to wait through a long appeals process to find out if this actually changes anything, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Now, of course, I feel all this pressure to blog about it, but I’m gonna go ahead and take the pressure off and selfishly blog about myself in the midst of social change. I’m definitely happy about the decision, but for my thoughts about the marriage movement as the central focus of the struggle for LGBT rights and the idea that marriage rights mean “equality for all people,” please click here. I’ll have a response later, when I’ve gathered my conflicted feelings into coherent thoughts.

On to the selfishness:

Continuing what’s becoming a series on how to begin failing as a writer, so you can someday find success (yeah, I’ll let you know if I get around to that “success” part): Earlier this week, I got a rejection letter that came with a personal note. For something I’d written, that is, not some kind of dating rejection or a rejection of my being, or I might be feeling a little more discouraged.

Anyway, what began with a disappointing “We’re sorry that your submission was not accepted…” ended up sort of lifting my spirits by adding that they really enjoyed my story, and they hope I find a home for it somewhere because it just wasn’t the right “fit” for them at this time.

That’s the best I can ask for, right? Well, I suppose the best I could ask for would be to actually be accepted, but the eternal optimist in me (ha) says that the majority of what I submit at first won’t be accepted, so a rejection letter that comes with a personal note is the next best thing. I’m sure they get bombarded with submissions, and I’ve always heard that if someone takes the time out to recognize what they like about your work while they’re rejecting it, that’s a pretty good sign. Perhaps these particular editors write personal notes to everyone, but if you happen to know this, I’d advise against bursting my bubble. I’m gonna go ahead and revel in my rejection.

I’m sure this is just the beginning, and if I work hard I should soon have a pile of rejection letters to welcome the next acceptance one. I don’t want to get my hopes up too high — it doesn’t help that the first piece of fiction I submitted to a magazine was accepted and given an award, but I certainly can’t expect that every time. So I prepare my work for submission while expecting rejection, which might seem like a hopeless way to go about doing things. But I don’t see the wall of rejection as an unbreakable one. I’ll hold on to the little glimmers of hope: Oh hey, they liked my story. Oh hey, they used my name instead of just writing “Dear Reject.” Oh hey, they didn’t advise me to keep my day job. The little things.

And I’ll build my wall of rejection, made of flimsy pieces of paper and not-quite-right fits and comic sans (at least, I believe all rejection letters should be written in comic sans, that way I can giggle a little and not feel so bad about them). I’ll build it knowing how easily it can be knocked down. Knowing that someday, I’ll get a letter saying that the editors enjoyed my work and found it to be a perfect fit. Knowing that no rejection letter, no matter how impersonal or discouraging, could stop me from writing or getting my writing out into the world. This blog itself is a reclamation of personal power over my work, as I put work out there regardless of whether anyone wants to publish it (and find that some people want to read it). Even the act of getting up each morning to write, knowing that most of what I write will never be seen, is an act that declares that my writing means something to me, even if someone else chooses to reject it.

So, even while I’m failing to get my work published, I’m determined to define success in my own terms. And I’m considering myself a damn successful failure.

And now, some fiction to help heal my wounds.

__________________________________________________________________________________

They never called her anything but “the intern.” During the fall reading period, it was her job to brew their tea (three different pots of three different varieties). There were no coffee drinkers. If they had a guest editor who drank coffee, it was her job to get that, too.

It was the end of the reading period, and they’d given her a pile of letters for the rejects (they never called them anything but “the rejects”). Now their job was done, and she was alone in the office, addressing rejection letters to make sure nobody received one that began “Dear Reject,” as that was how they were formatted. She wasn’t supposed to write anything personal, though she knew each of their stories quite well, having familiarized herself with them so that she could understand the context of the comments made when she took notes during their meetings. They couldn’t be bothered to take notes themselves. The rejects weren’t worth removing their hands from their warm teacups.

But before she sealed the first letter, she hesitated. She recognized the name, Rupert Singer, and remembered his story, the one about the boy and his rabbit. Cliché, they’d called it. They hated that it ended with a sunset.

She took a pen and wrote by hand, bright blue ink sticking out like a moving flag against the black and white printed paper.

“Loved the images in this story,” she wrote. “The last one of them hopping into the sunset will stay with me forever.”

She looked at the stack of papers beside her. It would take all night for her to do this for each one. They wouldn’t pay her for that.

But it would be worth it to someone, she told herself as she picked up the next sheet.

Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 11:24 AM  Comments (2)  
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Pep talks and perfectionism

Well, August is here. It crept in all slow and stealthy, like the fog over the Richmond District. This would be about the time when I’m worrying that I’ve wasted the summer as the beginning of a new school year approaches, but there will be no school for me this fall. It’s kind of strange. I’ve been a student nearly my entire life and I still feel like a student, so I guess August without school will remind me that I’m not right now. I’ll have to figure out another meaning that August can have for me, besides scrambling to have last-minute adventures and finish some leisurely reading before the school year. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Yep, it’s August, and according to San Francisco weather, summer has yet to begin.

Anyway, I mentioned that I’ve been working on pieces to submit. I’ve only recently, and very tentatively, begun the process of submitting my work to places like literary magazines and readings.

I find that I have different relationships with different pieces that I’m working on. Some will sit quietly, waiting for me to return to them, even if I never do. Others call out to me, demanding attention, usually at inconvenient times like when I’m traveling between places or trying to sleep. They usually have the best intentions in mind, I think, like reminding me of looming deadlines or keeping me committed when I’m feeling discouraged, but sometimes they’re just being obnoxious. Here’s a conversation I’ve been having recently with a newly “finished” piece:

Finished Piece: Okay, what’s the problem?

Me: What do you mean?

FP: I finally get you to come back and work on me, and now you’ve been sighing and shaking your head at me for the past hour.

Me: Yeah, I know. Okay. The truth is, I know we’ve spent a lot of time together, but I’ve decided that you suck.

FP: Well, if I suck, you suck. Besides, I’m the best you’ve got, and I’m not getting any better.

Me: Forget this. I don’t have to settle for you.

FP: Yeah? What are you gonna do, abandon me to go write the next great queer girl novel?

Me: Maybe I will.

FP: Ha. I’ll believe that when I see it. And I’ll be here waiting when that falls through.

Me: Not if I get rid of you.

FP: Tell me again what’s so wrong with me?

Me: Your dialogue’s all wrong. You’re way too sentimental, and I don’t know what I was thinking with the setting. And I’ll never get that last sentence right, I know it.

FP: Here’s some news for you: everything you write is sentimental.

Me: Don’t go there.

FP: Anyway, you felt okay about me a week ago. I think this is just you being afraid to submit. I think this is you being crazy.

Me: I’m not afraid. And I’m not crazy.

FP: Girl, look at who you’re talking to, and then tell me again you’re not crazy.

Me: There have been plenty of successful writers who are crazy.

FP: Not your kind of crazy. If they were your kind of crazy, nobody would’ve ever seen their work. They’d still be sitting at home talking to it.

Me: Well, there’s no way I’m submitting you as you are! I’d have to cut at least a hundred words. And I’d have to change that last sentence, dammit. I’ll get it right if it kills me.

FP: You’d die for me? I’m touched.

Me: Not really. It’s more likely that I’d kill you first, so you better help me with this last sentence or you’ll never get out of here.

FP: The word you’re looking for is “destiny.”

Me: Bullshit. I never use “destiny.”

FP: That’s not what those papers in the trash bin say.

Me: Yeah, and if I use “destiny” with you, that’s where you’ll end up.

FP: Geez, again with the trash threats. What’ll it be after you fix the last sentence?

Me: What do you mean?

FP: You know what I mean. After you fix the end, it’ll be the beginning that’s not good enough. And after that, you’ll need to change the characters’ names. And you’ll just keep fixing and fixing until you give up, and we’ll never get anywhere.

Me: Well, I have to get it right…

FP: Listen. Isn’t it the journey that counts? You’ve learned something while working on me, yes?

Me: Yes. Something about not having conversations with pieces of ficiton…

FP: And you improved your writing?

Me: Oh, yeah. You were atrocious when I first started working on you.

FP: And you had a good time? You remembered the whole reason you started writing, because it’s something you love to do?

Me: Yeah, we had some pretty good times together.

FP: Then it doesn’t matter what happens now, does it? Look, I might not be what you envisioned when you started writing. I may not be the piece that changes the world or touches lives. I might not ever get published. But I’ve been a part of your journey, and you’ve grown as a writer in the time you’ve spent with me.

Me: I hate it when you’re right.

FP: Hey, I come from your mind. I’m not saying anything that’s not already in there somewhere. Give yourself some credit. If I’m right, you’re right.

Me: Sure.

FP: And that last sentence? Switch the clauses, and it’ll be perfect.

Me: Wow, that is perfect. You’re brilliant!

FP: And if I’m brilliant…

Me: Then I’m brilliant?

FP: Don’t give yourself too much credit. I was going to say that if I’m brilliant, then it’s time to send me off! I wanna see the world.

So, this is what happens when I’m in need of encouragement. I turn to my writing, and it… talks to me. Hmm. This seems to be another one of those things that I meant to keep to myself, and ended up blogging about instead…

Published in: on August 3, 2010 at 1:18 PM  Comments (3)  
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The queer artist

Yesterday I explored some ways I can feel like an authentic writer, methods like blogging from cafes and drinking coffee. It’s clear that these things aren’t what define me as a writer (although, full disclosure: I’m back today, at the cafe with coffee).

Today I’m thinking about how I can identify myself as a writer. Not that I’m eager to put myself in a box, but in many ways I’m sometimes expected to. I try to avoid it sometimes, and succeed for as long as I can until the next person asks that question: “what do you write?” It’s that question you might get from many people when you identify yourself as someone who writes.

Maybe there was a time when answering this question would’ve been a simple one, but it’s since gotten more complicated for me. I often say I’m a fiction writer, but I feel a little guilty about it, because that’s not entirely true. But does each person who asks really want to hear about my internal struggle over whether I’m writing fiction or poetry?

I’ve taken to identifying myself as a queer writer while trying to figure out how to answer the question. You might wonder why I would want to put myself in such a box, especially if not everything I write is distinctly queer.

It’s kind of like the question of why I’d taken on the label of queer. I’ve been asked why queer people want to “flaunt it,” why they would have to broadcast their sexuality as such a primary part of their identity. At times I’ve tried to put this perspective in terms of a bookstore. I can walk into the fiction section of an average bookstore, and I’m sure I’d find plenty of great books, but I might have a hard time finding stories that reflect people like me. I’d scan book covers and summaries on the backs to see if there were any featuring women of color as main characters. I’d try to read into every description of character relationships to see if there could possibly be a queer character somewhere within the pages.

But of course, the majority wouldn’t focus on queer characters, or women of color, and surely there would be very few featuring queer women of color. In all the time I spend searching each book for them, I would definitely find some wonderful books, but the number of books I’d find including my identity might range from very few to zero.

That’s why I have some kind of nerdy bookgasm when I walk into a bookstore to find sections like Black literature, queer literature or (gasp!) lesbian fiction. I don’t necessarily want to limit myself to reading books by authors like myself, but since such books are so rare in mainstream literature, I love finding entire sections devoted to highlighting such work.

So maybe that’s why I call myself a queer writer. As much as I would love to be simply considered a good writer (period), to be identified as a black writer or a queer writer would mean that folks like me, in search of some reflection of their own story, might find my work and hope to find it.

And I would have to ask myself, what would be the advantage of eliminating the labels, identifying myself as only a “writer” without distinguishing myself from any other? Langston Hughes wrote “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” in 1926, and his words still resonate with me today. He writes of the black poet who just wants to be “a poet — not a Negro poet,” in attempt to fit into the white American standard as much as possible. The black poet says it “as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world.”

I identify who I am as a writer because I’m not ashamed. I’m saying that, although voices like mine have long been ignored in many mainstream literary circles, my world is as interesting as any other world. Even if I’m never accepted in those mainstream circles, I will find myself amongst others in celebration of who we are. As Hughes writes: “We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”

Blogging in public places

I’m trying something different today. I’m blogging from a public place. It feels a little like getting naked in public, except the woman at the next table isn’t shielding her children’s eyes and the police haven’t arrived yet.

I don’t know how this is supposed to be any different for you, the reader. I imagined there’d be something interesting about saying, “blogging live, from Bazaar Cafe!” But so far, I think, it’s only different for me. Not that I’ve never written anything in public, but so far I haven’t done a blog post this way.

Allow me to set the scene for you. Maybe that’ll make a difference. It’s a cold, gray July winter morning in San Francisco. For those of you from outside of the Bay Area, that description may have thrown you off a bit, but just use your imagination, from whatever enviably sunny place you’re in right now.

The dim lights and low jazz music are helping the scene come together. It also helps that I’m wearing a hat. I feel that this is an important part of setting the scene, or at least I did this morning when I decided I’d at least have to wear a hat if I was going to blog in public. That was silly, of course, thinking of it as a matter of appearances, because I’d look more like an authentic writer if I wore a hat to peer out from. I’ve since discovered that the hat actually serves the purpose of allowing me to hide beneath the brim and avoid eye contact when the employees stroll around to check that you’re paying for refills or buying your Internet use’s worth of food.

I’m just kidding about that last part. This is one of my favorite local independent coffee shops, and I wouldn’t cheap out here. It’s not like this is Starbucks or something, where I can stick it to the Man and make a slight dent in their profits, until they make it up moments later. I’ll make note of this for my next public blogging event.

I’m sipping coffee, even though I’m usually a tea drinker. See the above reasoning about authenticating the scene. I’ll be jittery soon, but at least I’ll know I did this right.

It’s feeling a little strange, addressing “the world” here but not interacting with folks in the public space around me. I’m trying to figure out how to connect this world and that one. Perhaps I’ll write my web address on some napkins, or on the dollar bills I’ll use to buy a refill. I’m trying to look intriguing enough, with my coffee and my low-brimmed hat, that someone will be unable to resist leaning over and asking what I’m doing.

If that happens, of course, I’ll have to come up with something more interesting that I’m blogging about. More interesting than “You’re asking what I’m blogging about? Ohmigod, I was just blogging about that!” Something like world peace, thrift store shopping or the plight of baby sea turtles in the oil spill. And if I hand them a napkin with my web address while I tell them this, then I’ll probably have to actually make a blog post about it. So if this post is followed immediately by one about baby sea turtles, you’ll know why.

Everybody else seems too worried about keeping up appearances of what they’re doing, though. Like the guy in the corner, whose jiggling leg keeps catching my eye. He must not be a regular coffee drinker, either. But he’s wearing a collared shirt and won’t take his eyes off his computer screen, so he must be running a business. Either that, or looking at porn. And the two women a couple of tables over, one of whom seems much more enthralled by their conversation than the other. The one who keeps glancing at me is clearly more intrigued by the idea of what’s going on over here, beneath my hat. Maybe I’ll drop off a marked napkin as I leave, to satisfy her curiosity.

I wrote some fiction while I sat here too, but I’ll spare you that. I tried to match appearances with that as well, writing the type of fiction one might write while sitting at a coffee shop listening to jazz music and wearing a hat. You can imagine the pretentiousness that resulted.

So that’s all, for now. Signing off, live from the Bazaar Cafe. Tune in next time, when I might try blogging live from the gym. Not working out, of course. Just sitting in the corner. Towel on my shoulder. Brooding. See you then.

Published in: on July 21, 2010 at 10:42 AM  Comments (1)  
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What the hell am I writing?

What the hell am I writing?

I think one of the reasons I’ve been feeling so strange about my writing lately is that I’m having trouble identifying what it is. I was once a poet, see, and then I became a fiction writer and I was comfortable with that title. Comfortable, at least, with calling myself a fiction writer who sometimes writes poetry, but always able to identify it as one or the other.

Then, in my last semester as an undergraduate Creative Writing major at San Francisco State, I decided to take a poetry class with the incredible and talented Toni Mirosevich. Partly because Toni is so incredible and I didn’t want to graduate without ever having taken a class with her, and partly because I thought that reconnecting with poetry would help me think outside of the box with my fiction.

Well, the class helped me think outside the box, all right. So far outside that I didn’t know what to call my writing anymore. If you’ve ever read Toni’s work, you might know that she’s the queen of creative non-fiction and you might have expected that I’d end up writing some kind of poetry/fiction/non-fiction fusion that could never be categorized.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I’m all about letting go of labels, after all. And I have great respect for writers who can pull off these sorts of things. But with my writing, of all things, I’ve always been something of a control freak. I like to go into it knowing that I’m writing fiction, that my paragraphs will begin with capital letters and end with periods. That it’s fiction because it’s not true and it doesn’t rhyme and there are no line breaks.

Right?

Then I find myself writing pieces like this, and when I go to post it I have to tag it as something, so I have to decide: is this fiction? Is it poetry? What about that truth element? Does that make it creative non-fiction? Can I call it poetic non-fiction, prosey poetry, poenonfiction? And what about when I write something that’s not true for me, but it’s somebody’s truth, and that’s why I write it? And what happens when I rhyme?

According to Toni, this is a good place to be in my writing. I’m on the edge of discovery, on the verge of… something, I suppose, though I’m not sure what. To me, being on the edge of something unknown feels like I’m about to plunge. I ask myself what’s the worst that could happen if I wrote something that can’t be categorized, and my mind goes to all kinds of illogical places, like the crumbling of the universe as we know it.

Then again, I wrote a few uncategorizables this morning and the world seems to still be in tact. For now. We’ll see what happens.

_________________________________________________________________________

‘Til Morning Comes

We know morning will come

but we try to carry this night together

by holding our breath

keeping darkness in our lungs

to release

when dawn begins

its painting of the sky.

I’m holding on until

your breathless laugh

makes me sigh.

I watch the air from within me

move to you

and I hope you’ll hold my breath

‘til morning comes.

Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 10:42 AM  Comments (3)  
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Words

I’d like to think none of my words have gone unheard.

Even the ones I tucked away into files I never intended to open have slipped away when I wasn’t looking.

They’ve found their way into tattoo parlors, where the artist, shaking his head as he inks “trash” on the customer’s body as requested, is surprised when he finishes to see that he’s written respect yourself instead.

Some have stopped violence, finding their way to a man who’s shouting at a stranger, fists clenched, ready to taste blood. He finds himself tasting the word peace instead, and he thinks it tastes like his mother’s blueberry pie.

The daredevil words, like fearless and powerful have gone on adventures, holding on to the bellies of planes, letting go and skydiving when they’ve reached their highest point. They split open when they hit the ground, then put themselves back together letter by letter and do it all again. The exception is powerful — I wrote that so it’ll never come apart.

Even words I’ve hidden away in diaries written at thirteen years old have gotten out, coming alive again by finding the diaries of those who are girls today, giving them words for their feelings so if they can’t hurl them at the world, at least they’ve written them somewhere.

Some words wrap themselves around the ankles of children who pass, like stray kittens who have found a home. Many are too big for the children, like oversized hand-me-down pants, but they’ll grow into them eventually. Like the little girl whose teachers won’t let her speak. The word oppression enters her mind, and she doesn’t know what it means but suddenly she understands how it feels. Her mother is surprised to find queer girls’ stories among the bedtime tales, but she reads them anyway, wondering why they haven’t been told before.

There are words that steal away into the night. Some settle into the craters of the moon, finding their way into the dreams of anyone who gazes above before sleeping. There are words that add light to the stars, and hop upon falling stars to give words to wishes.

My words bleed ink through paper, and rip through pages. Even the words I mean to keep to myself won’t let me be so selfish. They set out to fall upon the ears that need to hear them most.

Published in: on July 8, 2010 at 9:53 AM  Comments (2)  
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Exposed

I’m naked on this blog.

No, I’m not actually blogging in the nude (though maybe if I said I was I’d get more views?), but I look at the page and I feel exposed. Not only about writing some of my thoughts, many of which I often feel but rarely express, but also about posting my creative writing. About sharing about my writing process, and also sharing work that’s so fresh, coming out so early in the process.

There was a time when I wouldn’t show anybody what I was writing. Okay, so maybe I had a right to be ashamed of some of what I was coming up with, but mostly I had irrational feelings about my work being judged. Those feelings still haunt me now, but I have to push through my fears if I want my work to reach anyone so that’s what I’ve learned to do. Blogging has helped encourage me to push myself, but I still can’t really believe I’m doing what I’m doing here. Sharing new writing that I haven’t yet had a chance to mull over, eliminating the step when I usually decide I hate it and throw it away before anyone can see what I’ve done. Instead, posting it here without disclaimers or apologies (or maybe this entire post is a disclaimer slipping out — uh-oh) about how, you know, “it’s just something I just started working on, something silly, it’s not very good really, in fact not good at all, in fact you can just go ahead and forget you ever saw this…”

Part of the writing process I’m developing is trying to eliminate the disclaimers, so if I post something I’ve written and give it a preface about how much it sucks, you can go ahead and say “ahem” and remind me of this post. Even if it really does suck. Perhaps especially so.

I may feel naked, but I’m going to stand my ground, exposed.

—————————————————————————————————–

She woke up to blades of grass tapping her bare shoulders like the fingers of children eager to play. She didn’t have a blanket, she knew, but she felt herself wrapped in the warmth of her own skin. She moved her head from side to side to smell the morning, the damp dew nourishing the earth beneath her. She sat up, recognizing that she was nude only because of the way her body shifted, her hips falling in exchange for her body lifting, her breasts swaying slightly before coming to rest. There were murmurs above her, and she knew that she was not alone, but she wasn’t ashamed. She raised her arms to the sky, opened her mouth and let out a laugh louder than a lioness’s roar.

Published in: on June 16, 2010 at 9:20 AM  Comments (4)  
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Damn, I should be writing

On finding a writing routine:

I knew before I graduated from school that the hard part about setting out to be a writer would be, well, writing. It’s something I’ll never understand, why it’s so difficult to get around to doing what I love most. I was looking forward to freedom from the demands of academia to be able to write on my own time, but now the lack of a schedule that demands that I spend time writing is a challenge to overcome.

So far, if I have something that resembles a routine it looks like this: Getting up in the morning, sitting in front of the computer and thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.” Writing sometimes, or finding distractions to keep me from doing so. Then, going about my day. Cleaning while thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.” Or, sitting on the bus thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.” Or going to work thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.”

You can see where this is going. The end of the day comes and I decide I’m too tired to write, which makes me feel badly about myself after berating myself about it all day.

I know that once I fall into a routine of writing at the same time every day, I’ll be fine. I work well with routines like that. And getting up in the morning isn’t the problem; I’m used to getting up early and even if I didn’t want to my cat would make sure it happened. Blogging is helping, too. At least I’m getting my writing flow going. And if I’m blogging about writing, I figure I should at least be doing something to back it up.

I’ve also rearranged my room. The truth is I live in what is probably meant to be an office space and not a bedroom. It’s surrounded by windows on all sides and I absolutely love it, but of course I don’t have space for the desk area I’d love to have. But trying to write while sitting or laying in bed doesn’t help much with the motivation factor, so I managed to create a desk-like area for myself between my two bookshelves. I can lift the blinds and look out into the greenery of the neighbors’ backyards to my side, or stare into the neighbor’s office-equivalent of my room (somebody doesn’t know how to make the best of rentable space, geez) in front, and it at least makes me feel like I’m sitting in front of a desk and should be getting some work done (maybe thinking of it as “work” is part of the problem).

I’m going to shoot for writing in the mornings for now. Before I go out and take on the weight of the day. Hopefully most mornings, like today, I’ll be able to get some writing done. Before I was published, a stranger once told me that I shouldn’t wait for it to happen to call myself a writer. He was right. It doesn’t matter if I’m publishing what I’m writing or publishing it in the right place or having the right people read it to call myself a writer. All that matters is that I’m writing, so that’s why I’m aiming to do that, every day.

After all, putting a pen to paper and writing is so much better than sitting in front of a blank screen thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.”

Published in: on June 12, 2010 at 1:45 PM  Comments (2)  
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