Sunday, March 29, 2009

Scott Sanders (... and my first rejection)

I just opened my first rejection. How sweet it is to be among the ranks of writers who have experienced this right of passage. The rejection came by email, from Brevity, an online journal. I had submitted “Lessons of the Piecrust,” a version of which can be seen in 2 parts on this blog (January 30th and 31st). But then again, why would you want to go read that now that you know it’s been rejected?

I’m not daunted, though, and this is not the first time I’ve had to move forward, anyway, against the odds. When I applied to Muhlenberg College’s pre-med program their advisor, Mr. Samuels, sat me down to talk me out of it.
“You have five strikes against you,” he said earnestly, “You’re a woman; you’re older then usual - they’ll want to know what you did instead of school; you’re a transfer student; you came from a community college; and you had bad grades in high school - including needing summer school for failing US History in tenth grade. This is not going to be easy.”

And he didn’t know the other strikes. I had done poorly all through grade school, too - always in a bit of trouble, not principal’s office type trouble, well, not until high school anyway. I could count on one hand the number of books I read in high school. And I came from a family with limited education; my mother had only gone to eighth grade and the sister who raised her (their mother died young) only to third grade. My father, the lucky one, finished high school.

Naturally, Mr. Samuels was right. It wasn’t easy. Science was OK because I had built up some skills at the community college, but the language-based courses were much harder for me. I can still remember downing mug after mug of coffee at a tiny dorm room desk with my World History book and the dictionary required to read it fighting for space.

I thought about this as I read The Country of Language by Scott Sanders. He talks fondly about learning to read: “…ink marks on paper setting whole worlds moving inside (of him),” and he describes his drive to write, “the tug of language,” as something he just couldn’t resist. As a latecomer to writing, and reading, for that matter, I don’t recognize this in my life.

But I must say, Scott Sanders does talk about writing in ways I can identify with: he describes his writing career as: “making stories, small gifts in return for the great gift of life.” He talks of “writing (his) way through shadowy tangles,” and his "desire to salvage worthy moments from the river of time.” These quotes help me express why I write – I write to put in order the chaotic string of events and feelings that is my life. I see humans, all of us, as full of frailties and faults, strengths and skills. I want to understand this through a thorough and honest look at my own life, warts and all. And I want to share it with others who might enjoy, or if I do it right, maybe even benefit from it.

So rejection or not, here I come. I will print it and paste it up on my wall as I’ve learned from other writers I should do. For me the best part is that I understand this to mean I am a writer. A writer with more to learn ... a lot more, perhaps. But if there’s one thing I know about myself, it is this: if I am lucky enough to have plenty more mornings, a supply of strong coffee and a good dictionary, I'll do it.


  1. Well, this is just shocking. You have a real knack for language/writing.

  2. Lovely piece, Janet. I like the way you open and end with the idea of rejection that is made concrete by the reference to Brevity. I also love the stories you tell about the struggles you had in your way to making a life, and I hope you'll think about writing more essays about that. You did a wonderful job here weaving in a response to a book with a requirement for the class (the submission of your piece to Brevity) and a meaningful reflection on your life: this is what good writing is all about.

  3. Yay for your first rejection! That calls for a celebration, I think. And for more writing, like you say. This is great.

  4. Well-written, Janice. I'm glad you don't let a rejection phase you. If anything it's an important learning experience. However, I hope you don't really think that people like me don't want to read your work once we know it's been rejected. As someone who has worked at various publications, I can tell you that I've seen much worse, and that a rejection doesn't always mean the piece was wholly inadequate, or even somewhat inadequate. I'm glad to know you'll keep writing, revising and submitting.

  5. Just a lovely read. Lovely Lovely.
    Welcome to the rejection club!


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