Even though I talk about only needing validation from myself and how the writing is enough – and I do believe these things – I still have those aching moments where I search for validation from the outside, and feel crushed when I don’t get it. I guess my rejection skin isn’t quiet as intact as I would like.
The thing is, all rejections are not created equal; and it happens that the last two I got really fucked with my head. The first I wrote about in my post Rejection Skin, the second was just a few days ago when I got turned down for a fellowship. It was the first time I had applied for any kind of fellowship and I have to admit, I actually believed I had a shot. The fellowship is The Emerging Writers Fellowship through PEN America; it would have been 6 months of writing classes and private mentorship and networking – it would have been great. Apparently there were an unprecedented number of applicants this year and only 5 spots available, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. Why wasn’t I one of the five?
When I got the email telling me they were sorry to inform me etc. and blah blah blah, I told my husband I was ok because I had been feeling like I didn’t really want to make the commitment anyway, but later that evening I started to get really upset. I realized that the fellowship represented a kind of validation that is different from getting published. I come from a very high achieving academic family, and because the fellowship would have been an academic thing, I believed it would validate me in my families eyes. I felt so ashamed to have failed and I didn’t want to tell them. This rejection went much deeper than a lack of confidence in my writing; it triggered old feelings about whether or not I have any value as a person. I know that the shame is about my own perceptions of how I don’t fit into my family, but those perceptions have roots that are stubborn and strong.
My feelings about this rejection were also tied to my RP. The project proposal I gave for the fellowship was basically turning “Stories from the Edge of Blindness” into a book; it was everything I have been writing about here for years and all the ideas I have had about telling my stories; the rejection made me feel like my experiences are insignificant. Basically, this rejection knocked me to the ground.
It has taken me a few days to bounce back, but I have come away from the blow with some renewed strength and resolve. I am not looking to be told that my writing is great; what I write and how I write isn’t for everyone, and that is ok, it doesn’t have to be. Fellowship committee members and editors and publishers are all people with specific tastes, just like me and every other person on the planet; they may not like my work and I may not like what they write, but isn’t that the beauty of art? If all art appealed to all people, it wouldn’t have the profound impact that it does.
I am not looking to hear that my experiences and stories matter to the world; they matter to me and I feel like sharing them. I know that outside opinions don’t validate me and that my family loves and supports me because of who I am, not how accomplished I am in the world. If I want to, I can apply for the fellowship again next year, or not; either way, I won’t stop writing. It is who I am and what I choose to do. I am excited by words and the magic they weave, so why would I deprive myself of writing just because someone I don’t know doesn’t like my work? I know there will be other rejections that hit a little harder than most, but now I know that I can deal with them and that I will always keep writing.