I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Modern Love

Rejected!

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Resilience (Part 2)

“Fuck You New York Times” was my first reaction.

“I’m not a good writer after all.  I can’t do it.  I quit!”  was my second reaction.

Whoa!  What?  Both reactions require me to be angry, depressed, hiding away licking my wounds in victim-y self-pity.  Swinging between the extreme undemonstrativeness of my father where everything I did got a “fair” assessment and the blind adoration of my mother where I could do no wrong, I am an odd mixture of hubris and anxiety that I am a failure.  Any success I have is dubious, because I am a fraud and have everyone fooled.

The experience of submitting my essay – in actuality – differed from the experience in my mind.  In my mind, the New York Times enthusiastically accepted my submission within 24 hours, eager to publish it immediately.  That Sunday!  I was planning the announcement to my community of friends, family, colleagues, and maybe a few frenemies.  (Hah!  See!  I showed you!)  I was the undiscovered great essayist they’ve been waiting for.  I would become famous and admired for my honest and beautifully written personal remembrances.  I would get a book deal!  True, I would have to confront going public with my stories, most frighteningly to my parents.  But I was ready.  If not now, when?  It was time.  How dare they reject my submission?  I had already planned out my future – all based on their acceptance!  Fuck the New York Times.  I must be a failure and a fraud after all.

That night, my husband was tired of kids’ tennis duty and asked me to pick them up.  I passively aggressively agreed.  This was cutting into my time – it was my night to work late or sneak in a yoga class or just go home and have the house to myself to write.  Besides, I was out of sorts from receiving the rejection email – one month, precisely, from the day I had submitted it, as promised by their precise submission guidelines.  I grumbled out of the house and got into the car and turned on WNYC.  And was transfixed.  The Moth Radio Hour was on.  In my heightened awareness of writing and story-telling, what could have been better?  Josh Axelrad was telling his story of gambling.  His word choice was sophisticated and intricate, his timing and intonation were amazing, his story was riveting.  Wow.  Now that’s how to tell a story!  Fuck the New York Times.  I must be a failure and a fraud after all.

Now what?  Deep breath.  Pause.  Take a day, or a week, or a month, to consider my next steps.  I don’t have to react immediately or impulsively or emotionally.

What now, is that after 50 years of rejections and acceptances I can find a middle ground.   I am a good but new and inexperienced writer.  Maybe the rejection has nothing to do with me and my essay.  Maybe it just didn’t fit the direction they want to go with the column.  Maybe I should submit it somewhere else.  I can do that.  I don’t have to quit.  I can keep writing, keep practicing, honing my skills, getting my 10,000 hours in.

At 17, I was not so patient.  I had been obsessed with ballet.  For all of 2 or 3 years.  Dancing 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, I probably had about 4,000 hours in when I decided to audition for New York City Ballet’s School of American Ballet.  Not a city kid, my mother and I took the train from D.C. to New York, where I was overwhelmed with the monolithic gray busyness of the city.  We took a taxi from Penn Station to Lincoln Center.  We found the dark and cramped administrative corridors in the bowels of Lincoln Center leading to the seemingly enormous mirror-lined dance studios of the school.  I was too nervous to remember much.  My mother had made the appointment, so I had a private audition not a cattle call.  I went into the locker room to change and then they brought me to the studio.  Two older women with Russian sounding accents were there.  Not unkind, they looked me over.  I pliéd and did a glissade.  And that was about it.  Perhaps they had me do a small combination in the center of the grand old studio.  That was enough for them to know that I was not what they were looking for.  I was not tall enough.  I was not ethereal enough.  I was not uniquely talented enough.  I didn’t have my 10,000 hours in.  They suggested that I go to a college with a strong dance program and explore other forms of dance that were not so exacting.  Excellent advice that I could not hear.  I was determined to be a ballet dancer at the most prestigious dance company I was aware of.  That was the future I had imagined in my mind.  They rejected me.  Closed off to other possibilities, I quit ballet.  Later, I quit college to return to ballet – but with similar results.  Bouncing between extremes, I never let myself enjoy being good enough – open to possibilities other than greatness at something ridiculously hard to achieve.

Now what?  What now is that I can practice resilience, mindfully choosing flexibility and optimism.  Rejection is not a tragedy.  It is an opportunity.  Your loss, New York Times.  (sigh, still angry)  I will practice my writing and find other venues to publish and to reach an audience.  Just as there are myriad other profoundly amazing dance companies and dancers (which, regretfully, I was not wise enough at the time to explore – sigh, still sad), so there are other ways to tell stories.

Daughters and Fathers

Ah, Sunday morning with coffee and the New York Times.  I do love the serendipity of flipping through the newspaper and finding something unexpected that I want to read.  Long live print.

This past Sunday August 12th, the Modern Love column was written by Lucy Schulte Danziger, editor of Self.  She wrote a reflection on the passing of her father. 

I know Lucy, though not well, through our shared work history at now defunct Women’s Sports and Fitness magazine.  Lucy embodies many traits that I admire and don’t always feel I have.  She is confident, extroverted, energetic, and outspoken.  She is a writer and editor.  She is an athlete and a health & fitness expert.  She is at the top of her game.  I am developing those traits in myself, but they are new and fragile.  I tend to cede control to those who are more dominant and forceful, like Lucy.  More to the point, I am reevaluating my relationship with my aging father and am hoping to say what I want to say to him before he dies.  So, with that context, I was highly interested in reading what she had to say. 

My first reaction was anger and judgment:  Easy for her to feel love instead of debilitating grief: clearly she had a wonderfully loving relationship with her father who adored her.  Easy for her to feel love instead of debilitating grief: with her comfortable life, filled with a vacation home, affluence, and opportunities.  She is out of touch with the rest of us who have complicated relationships with our fathers, less money and opportunities, and are caring for aging parents in various stages of prolonged illness and wondering when it will be over. 

Whoa!  Wait a minute!  Let me reread what she wrote. 

Her father was a brilliant and celebrated leader in the book publishing industry.  What kind of pressure might that have been on his daughter – herself a high-achiever in the world of athletics and publishing?  My radar is up.  I can only speculate.  A triathlete, eager to compete and win?  A successful media executive, eager to compete and win?  Well, whatever issues they may have had, it seems they aired them and resolved them instead of letting them simmer unsaid.  Kudos to both of them. 

What can I learn from her without diminishing my own traits, talents, and successes?  How can I be pleased for her without feeling bad about myself? 

So, upon rereading and reflection, I have landed on a different interpretation.  We are all on our unique path, with different parents and different experiences shaping us.  We all struggle.  Maybe I am envious of her success and her graceful coping with death.  But I am not angry with her and no longer judge her.  In fact, I agree with her.  Her father is supremely lucky to have died doing something he loved.  And Lucy is supremely lucky to feel his love.  Instead of being angry, I offer my letter of appreciation:

Dear Lucy,

Thank you for sharing the story of your father’s death. 

It takes courage to express a point of view that seems to go against social norms – your experience of his dying seems bathed in love not grief.  I imagine, from what you’ve said, that while your father was demanding, he was also demonstratively loving and proud of you.  You have a confident, extroverted, energetic, no-nonsense personality.  His love and pride in you is apparent.  Sigh, I am jealous.  I am still sorting through the good and the bad of my father and how the complexity of our relationship has shaped me and my personality.   And perhaps that is why many of us experience so many complicated and negative emotions when a parent dies.  We feel forlorn – parentless and alone.  We feel frustrated at all the unresolved anger.  We feel guilty for feeling angry and for feeling relieved that they are dead.  We feel sad that they are gone.  We truly miss them and the shared personality traits and the shared memories.  We are afraid of aging and of dying.  I cannot think of a better gift than to parent a child so that they feel profound love when you are gone.  May I give my children that gift.  (And may we all die quickly and painlessly doing something we love – and not experience the prolonged death that so many people experience in this time.)

Thank you for sharing,

Sally

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