In Spite of Rejection

This morning I received another rejection from a literary magazine. I’m at the point where rejections dig deeper under my skin than they did in the beginning. They lead me to question my purpose and all the hours I’ve spent writing fiction, all the minutes I’ve chosen writing over my children, my husband, my loved ones. What was the point, you know?

If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

Lucky for me, I believe in the virtue of persistence. I consider myself a persistent person. Yet, in those moments after receiving a rejection, the persistence flickers. Why am I putting such effort into a calling that’s so far from guaranteed? Why am I taking precious time from my life (and life is, inevitably, short) and spending it on a gamble?

Sometimes, I wonder about putting my youngest in daycare and getting a job. I’ll have to start at the bottom again, but I’ll be both a career woman and a mom, and maybe I won’t feel the need to write. So I go to Craigslist and I browse the jobs, and I fall deeper into despair because every employer wants experience I don’t have. Since becoming a mother 6.5 years ago, I haven’t held a job and I’ve never worked harder. I’ve started and run a tea business, I’ve written many short stories and several novels (one of which I’m currently re-writing, one of which needs more work, one of which I’m chalking up to a learning experience, and one of which I’m still undecided about), I’ve blogged, I’ve written freelance, I’ve composed poetry, and I’ve taken care of my kids.

I. Am. Burnt. Out.

Aside from this slightly neglected blog, a poetry blog, a few links to published work, a few manuscripts, a few old tins of tea, and a long string of rejections; what do I have to show for all this work?

I don’t have passive income, years of post-college employment history, or a book on the shelves with my name on the cover (yet). But I have what I value most. I have my children. My beautiful family. If I scrapped all of my writing projects and “just” took care of my family, would it matter to anyone but me? Would anyone care that I wasn’t writing or making money? Would anyone miss the potential growth my words may or may not bring?

If I didn’t write in stolen moments, I would be a more present mother. I would play more with my kids, read more to my kids, teach more to my kids. And yet I’m holding onto the notion that writing, in its delayed-gratification way, makes me a better mother. Even if they don’t know it yet, someday they will understand that I did what I loved, against all odds, in spite of rejection, without anyone else’s help. I did it out of pure love for the art of literature. No matter what happens to my unpublished manuscripts, I listened to my heart. I followed it. This is the legacy I want to leave.

 

“But that is the book that I am writing. That we try and we fail and we try again. That we dust ourselves off and continue on. I am writing the book that I need to read. That despite my fear of failure, despite the fear that I am somehow a fraud, despite the suspicion that I am less than, I will keep trying. I will lean into what is good and hard and terrifying. I will turn to my better angels and sojourn on. Because the other option? The other option is only an approximation of life and not really life itself. And I want a really big life.” – Meg Fee

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The American Dream V2016

When I run, I feel free. When I fly in an airplane, I feel free. Yet my legs always tire and the earth always pulls me back to her. I am at her mercy, my wings powered by the energy drawn from her center. 

When I travel, I feel free. Yet I always return home, to the one country who will keep me. When I write, I feel free. Yet my expression is stunted by my inhibition and your interpretation.

A country can stand for freedom, but it will fail. It will fail by indoctrinating our minds and seeking control over our bodies and breaking our spirits with its own brokenness.

What is true freedom? I dare say it is not a place on a map, but freedom from judgment and expectation, from anxiety, depression and despair.

Because my country provides me peace, I am free to seek inner-peace. Because my country grants me freedom of speech, I am free to speak my voice. Because my country believes in dreams, I am free to dream. Because my country seeks progress, I am free to progress. Because my country allows me choices, I am free to choose non-attachment. I can choose freedom from attachment.

But that’s the light side, the reaching-for-sun side. Beneath the surface, these roots run deep, dark and gnarly.

I was helping in my daughter’s kindergarten classroom two days before summer vacation. The teacher gave a lesson about the origins of our country. He explained that people left their homes and took boats to “the new world” because they no longer wanted to be “owned” by a European king and America was “the land of the free.” I nearly cried for the bittersweet hope of it, the dream of it, the epic failures and successes of this country built for dreams, by dreamers. For the promise of the future, held in the hands of those 22 young Americans, a true melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, on the cutting edge of Now.

But I cringed as the teacher had to repeat the assignment to a little black boy who wasn’t following instructions. The children were to draw themselves on the boat, coming to America, the land of the free.

We know people came to this land to be free. We also know they came in chains. They came to steal and kill and make fortunes and live the dream. They wove the fabric of our nation with discrimination, racism, and hope. This country has never not broken hearts. But, a country is essentially made of humans, and so, like the human body, we can heal. But we have to want and work to heal, we have to cast our votes accordingly.

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The Restoration of the World

“We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It’s a very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It’s the restoration of the world.” – Rachel Naomi Remen on the podcast, “On Being: Kabbalah and the Inner Life of God.”

If all of human purpose could be summed up in one statement, I believe it is this.

We are born with the capacity to find the hidden light. We don’t have to do anything to make it so, we must only notice it. By bringing our awareness to the good, we shed light upon it, and it therefore expands.

Every faith and spiritual practice asks us to train our attention on the present moment. Inherently, the present moment offers us the beauty we seek, in its entirety. There’s nothing to worry about in the moment when we don’t feel regret for the past or anxiety for the future. Children, of course, do this naturally.

As we come of age, our minds continually trip over the complex miracles of the universe. We try to decipher what’s happening, as it happens. We sense energy in and around us, unseen worlds, and we hope that with enough thought, we will decode it, we will understand it. We get in the habit of thinking in continuous streams. We are rarely taught to quiet our minds and just Be. Many of us are addicted to thinking, and most of that thinking accomplishes nothing.

Even the people who study meditation and consciousness, the mystical spiritual seekers, do not always remember to Be Here Now. This is a lifelong practice. Our technology, our lifestyles, our habits, they pull us back into our minds.

We are here not to live in our heads, but in this magical universe, where the light comes and goes in a predictable pattern. Even when immersed in (what we perceive as) darkness, the light is still shining, somewhere. We’ve simply turned away from it. It’s always there. If not for infinity, then some number that approaches it.

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Becoming 31

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Tomorrow, I am thirty-one, the shift into thirty-something subtle but very present.

I keep forgetting it’s my birthday week. My former favorite-day-of-the-year overshadowed by kindergarten graduation and four days of intensive solo parenting.

The past year has shown up for me, generously teaching what I need more of, and it is neither ambitious nor lightweight.

It is inner-peace.

Sure, I often feel at peace in my comfortable middle-class lifestyle in my safe first-world country. It’s easy to feel peaceful when I’m in the gym, exercising to enthralling podcasts and beautiful music. But I must carry that peace with me, after I’ve left the steam room, and I am crossing a busy street with two children who are hungry and uncooperative. I may feel peaceful when the stars align and I get to sleep in until 7, but can I find peace at 5:30 am with a toddler climbing all over me?

True peace is not the absence of conflict, but strength in the face of overwhelm. It’s easy to sit in, and write about, and meditate on inner-peace, but how do we find peace when stress comes?

Likewise, it’s easier to set goals than to find peace with where we are right now. And that’s the answer, the paradoxical truth: in order for peace, we must have acceptance and love of what is, compassion for our humanness, for the meandering path we forge, the detours that seduce and distract and unnerve us.

Which is great, because it means I don’t have to wait until I’m officially done with losing my patience and saying things I don’t mean. I can fail as many times as I need to, and somehow, I can still find peace in that.

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Learning to be Quiet

 I recently read a book about “the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.” Or, what it means and feels like to be an introvert in a culture with a clear extrovert ideal.

This book has changed my life (again) by guiding me towards acceptance and appreciation of my introverted nature. Such as: I don’t like public speaking but I will do it for something I am passionate about. I shy away from making small talk in the school yard, but I enjoy the parents I’ve come to know. And while I love being surrounded by people I love, I also need time every single day to be alone.

I remember being a child and going to church with my parents and loving it for the choir practice and Sunday School, communion and  contemplation, but dreading the social hour that took place afterwards. When my elementary school offered the opportunity to stay inside at recess and help the teacher, I filled up those “job cards,” one after the other.

In learning about introversion, I’ve found a deeper understanding about my priorities, and the ways I’ve hidden from my self using the computer screen, alcohol, and even work in its many forms: creative, family, house, entrepreneurial, professional, paraprofessional, nonprofessional.

In the past few weeks, I started letting myself stay home more often with my two year-old daughter. It seems we are usually on the go, whether volunteering or hitting the playground or the gym or kiddie classes or the grocery store. But I’m finding that when I spend more time at home, I have more time to play and be completely present with my daughter. I have space to journal and read (in brief snippets, to be sure). I clean more, and the outer order contributes to inner calm. I don’t need to run around the city, the city is running around me.

Interestingly, on quiet days, I also need less of the validation and distraction provided by social media. I do not need the stimulation of the polychromatic playground  and the camaraderie of my fellow caregivers, and neither does my daughter. She is happy to hang at home and play.

In our culture, we often follow the mentality that we should do more in order to be more, that we must get out into the world as often as possible because we exist to make connections, and yes, we are all social creatures, but in profoundly different ways. We must honor our individuality. I’m learning.

Some days its enough to be social with only our family or closest friends. We may live in the most extroverted nation in the world, but roughly one-third to one-half of humans are skewed towards introversion, which makes you wonder, how much of American extroversion is contrived? How often are we “forcing” ourselves to get out there when we would rather curl up at home with a book or a movie or a loved one or all three?

Human existence has the funny habit of feeding us all sorts of ideas about the purpose of life and our place in it, and accordingly, many of us train ourselves out of our natural tendencies. The separation hurts. We feel stretched tight on a continual basis without quite knowing why. Like something is missing, perhaps.

I see beauty in the journey home, in choosing every day how we change. Because we do, we change, every day. We evolve back into ourselves, finding our sweet spots and editing away the nonessential, and simply being Quiet.

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Mama Said Project

In early May, I participated in the San Francisco book launch for, “Mama Said: a collection of short stories about motherhood,” the anthology that we, the creators and contributors, wish we’d had when we were new mothers. I read my essay, “It’s Okay To Leave Your Baby,” to the room, but really I read it to the story’s main characters also in attendance: my husband and our young daughters.

I knew that bringing my daughters would up the ante, but I chose to bring them anyways, because I wanted them to see their mama in action. I wanted them to sense my passion, to understand that not all “work” needs to be done in an office, and to (some day) realize how much I have and will sacrifice for them. The essay, while containing valuable advice for new mothers, is mostly a love letter to my family, expressing all of this and more.

Though I was anxious in the hours leading up to the reading, I felt immediately good when we arrived (early) to Green Apple Books, a store packed floor-to-ceiling with books both new and used, good vibes radiating from between pages. I didn’t feel nervous again until I got up there and the raw truth of what I had written struck me as intensely private, and there I was, sharing freely with a room full of lovely people, many of whom I had just met. I focused on reading slowly and, as I stood without a podium, not crossing my legs at the ankle. I shifted around a bit, and I settled with both of my feet planted firmly on the ground, balanced and steady.

It was hard for me to sleep that night, so moved was I by the whole experience, the stories read, the women behind the Mama Said project, the vulnerability of speaking truth, my inaugural book store reading. I was reminded of the infinite possibility inherent in living Now. How charged I am by writing and books and sharing. How beautiful it is to have dreams and communities.

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The Void

Like everyone else with an internet connection, I get overwhelmed by the amount of content on the web. So much of it is so good.

This is (part of) the reason I have mostly stopped blogging. I don’t want to add more noise to the noise. Maybe it’s a good reason, maybe it’s not. But it’s my reason.

Sometimes when I’m sitting in my peaceful living room, this patch of earth turned away from the sun and towards the all-encompassing darkness, I feel the void with intense precision, the hole I have tried over the years to fill with alcohol/food/social media/the internet/shopping/etc. If I don’t make any immediate moves to stuff something into it when it opens, I fall into the hole. I am curled up inside of myself, and it gets snug in there. I want out. I want to see more, do more, be more.

When you’re doing anything challenging, whether it’s running up a hill or launching a business or facing a void, the real rewards manifest when it starts getting hard and you keep going anyways.

If I don’t reach for things to fill the void, I am left with it, inside of it, exploring it. Dwelling in its discomfort. This tends to be a place where creativity happens. Creating pulls me out of this hole and back into universal oneness. Maybe it’s the reaching down into source that springs me out of it. Maybe it’s the widening of perspective that makes it cease to exist.

I think most people alive on earth today have this void, this vacuum created just by living. They drink and trip and work and eat and travel their way through it. But I’m not thinking today about all the ways we numb it and why. Instead I’m wondering about the ways we learn from the void. How do we dig deeper into that hole and come up with something beautiful and sparkling? How do we capture light and energy from the depths of the darkness? We have diamonds and oil, concrete metaphors from Mother Earth to demonstrate this potential. What can we harness from within?

Though I forget what it feels like to be bored, I know that life is boring without art. For me, the void is a catalyst for art, though I did not understand this until after I had a child. She gave me motivation to be my truest, highest self.

This doesn’t mean I never reach for second and third helpings of coffee or wine or chocolate, or yet another scroll through Facebook to procrastinate; but I am also able to recognize when I can no longer stand it, when further distraction will only lead to more pain, so I choose tea, my least distracting beverage, and I face the blank blinking page.

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. – Albert Camus

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