When I was a child, my father built a teeter totter for us (what some call a see-saw). Two long boards balanced on a metal A-frame that Dad had welded together then attached a metal plate where the boards were centred. We had two boards on that frame, each with a seat and T-handle at each end so that when there were more than two of us playing, or we had friends over to visit, there was room for more. We enjoyed endless hours of fun in our own rural playground of swing, sandbox and teeter totter. We went up and down, up and down, sometimes landing a bit too hard or getting dumped off, if the person at the other end were bigger or more energetic than the other.
Successes and rejections are a bit like riding on a teeter totter. The ride up is pleasant. The wind blows through my hair; I see the clouds and sky in a different light, and there’s a feeling of euphoria when I’d like to stay in that place. The euphoria could be receiving a note about the acceptance of a manuscript, the willingness of another to publish my work. The other seeing something good in what I hoped was a polished piece. It’s a bit like being in the clouds, feeling as though the day is suddenly much brighter. Writers report that this can happen at any time in their writing career, and it’s always welcome.
But it doesn’t remain that way. Eventually we go down. There’s the descent of this end, sometimes with a thunk, hitting the ground. That’s the no from a publisher, delivered however kindly, or just a plain unvarnished “No, it doesn’t match our list.” Or no response at all.
I’ve had a bit of both lately. I received a ‘yes’ to a poem submitted to Tower Poetry for consideration, accepted for the summer issue, then a ‘no’ from a reputable writer’s organization to my application for membership, based on my book submission. An up followed by a thunk. One was a bigger deal than the other, for I had hopes pinned on that application. It caused me to sit back and feel great disappointment. Alright, it was the cause of some tears too. I’m still processing the why of it. The door is not shut forever, just for now.
However, we’ve been told not to let others dictate our success. We might indeed ask the question: Success in whose eyes? And here is where the kind comments of others on our work come in. It’s a good thing that I have not waited to sell the book until I heard, because it’s been a very long wait. Though it was jarring and an unwelcome response with little explanation, I’ve already sold out most of my first order of books, so someone likes it. Many ‘someones’ have written, saying how much they appreciated it.
As Thomas Edison might have said, a failure is not the end. It just means that one way of doing something will not work for this project. And so I go back to my planning, engaging the creative part of my brain for marketing as I used for the initial writing. The teeter totter needs to go back on the upward thrust, letting the wind blow our hair again, seeing the sky in a new way, joining the euphoria we knew before. May it be that way for you too. As Wayson Choy once said to me, “Never Surrender.”