Today when I collected my mail, the latest issue of a particular literary journal that will remain nameless had arrived. I gathered the assortment of mail, glancing at the cover of this journal, and said aloud with verve and finality: “I’m still mad at you,” albeit in a sulky tone. As if this journal could hear me. As if even if it could, the editors listed inside would care. As if I was a jilted lover holding a long-held grudge. My grudge, however, is not long-standing, only nineteen days to be exact.
Okay, before you start rolling your eyes and thinking “quit complaining and get over it,” let me explain.
First of all, I’m not holding a grudge. (Well, maybe an itty-bitty one. But I will indeed get over it.) It’s more hurt than grudge really. Yes, I know, to be a writer one has to be willing to be kicked more than a few times (like hundreds) and not take it personally, right? That’s the thing though. It is personal because the work is personal. And this essay I submitted that got rejected, well, it was way personal. Probably my most personal. And that’s saying something if you know me or my writing.
Now you might be thinking “serves you right god-damned navel-gazer.” And maybe to a certain degree that would be correct. I mean, if I dare to be confessional in my writing, exposing myself to the deepest core, well, then I’m taking a risk. I’m opening myself up to criticism and rejection, as well as praise and acceptance. That’s just the nature of the world. We don’t all have the same preferences. Thank goodness for that. And this journal that rejected me? They got more than eight hundred submissions. The odds were most definitely not in my favor.
I received this rejection while at AWP, and one of my friends there said “They get a lot of submissions. What were you expecting?” And in one sense, I suppose she is right. With that kind of competition, how could I have the audacity to feel like a jilted lover? Now, that is what I really want to discuss. But it takes some openness to what might be perceived as “airy fairy” notions or “new age-y” ideals. And if that’s an area that you find to be mamby-pamby-shit-talk, then you can just stop right here and hit that big ol’ X in the top right corner.
So that question my friend asked at AWP, what was I expecting? Here’s the truth. I was expecting my essay to be chosen. It fit all the criteria. It incorporated a strong narrative, research, and reflection. It reached beyond the personal into the universal. It was honest, intimate, and true. And to top it all off, it perfectly fit the advertised theme. But once again, there is that question of how could I dare to think, no, believe that my essay would be chosen amongst all those submissions?
Have you ever heard of the film or book—heck, I think it’s probably become a whole entire movement—The Secret by Rhonda Byrne? It’s based on a concept known as “the law of attraction,” a concept also made famous by the teachings of Abraham, an entity “channeled” by Esther Hicks. The short version is this: like attracts like; our thoughts have the power to create whatever we want. If we focus our energy on that thing we want, if we remain positive, not by mere positivity, but by pure belief of imagination, then like attracts like, and that thing will manifest based on that flow of energy. See, I warned you this could be considered some mamby-pamby shit.
Okay, so here is my dilemma. While I awaited the results of my submission, I maintained a positive attitude. But it was more than that. I visualized it. I felt it. I believed it. There was no doubt, not even an inkling. I think what I felt came the closest to what I imagine people who believe in God feel—not that I’m trying to equate my acceptance or rejection to an almighty that millions of people believe in, but more the notion of a belief so strong that you feel secure in that belief.
So here’s the problem. I don’t want to lose my capacity for positive thinking. That feeling I had when I visualized so strongly my positive outcome, it felt good. It felt great actually. But the reality turned out to be different. My essay wasn’t chosen. It didn’t even make the final round. And maybe using this experience as an example for a foray into faith and positive thinking is a silly one, but right now, in this moment, that’s what I’ve got. There are others who are dealing with much worse results than this. A dear friend of mine currently is battling cancer. She’s one of the bravest, most inspiring people I know. She’s had to face challenge after challenge, and with every step she summons strength and grace. It’s not always easy for her, but she does it. And this idea of the law of attraction, if I replace her scenario with my own, it becomes a ludicrous notion. She did not attract cancer due to a lack of positivity. In her own words just today, she wrote,
We want to believe that if we live right, we won’t get cancer. If we fight hard, we can beat cancer. If we stay positive then we live longer. I can tell you right now that’s not always the case. Being healthy, fighting hard, and staying positive are admirable and desirable traits, but they can’t guarantee life.
I’m not facing cancer. Well, I am if you count watching my friend’s trajectory, but it is not my personal daily experience. I have it easy.
This is the conundrum I find myself: Between a belief in the power of positive thinking and reality. I don’t want to lose faith. But I also don’t want to lose sight of what’s tangible, or even probable. Not being chosen out of more than eight hundred submissions—that’s probable. But still, I want to believe.