Q: Hi Katie, How’s it going? I remember a post you wrote maybe last semester about rejections…I’ve had a string of them recently. Trying to rationalize (“maybe it wasn’t a good fit,” “you’ve got to be a better reader,” “you’ve got to be a better writer,” etc.) Do you have any advice for not letting that feeling take over the day? It’s kind of hard when it’s the first email you wake up to! Hope all is well!
A: Oh, sweet. I definitely know how it is. For me, the only way to “not let that feeling take over the day” is to meditate. Because when I meditate I remember that I cannot control everything. We live in a world that suggests if we only bought this or did that, we’d be able to control everything: our future health, happiness, success, and prosperity. When we feel that as writers, it can lead to despair, because we blame ourselves for our own rejections.
BUT you know as well as I do that editors have personal tastes, ideas about shaping a particular issue of a magazine, and more submissions to read than they really have time for. So you KNOW the rejections aren’t about the quality of your work, but about larger factors over which you have no control.
What you can control: that you keep writing. That you keep reading the things you love, the things that connect you to this world. That you keep putting words together to try to understand this bizarre, incredible life, because that’s what you really do it for.
And if it takes a little weeping, ok. If it takes a bit of screaming (I find in my car is good, where no one else can hear me), ok. If it takes the scribbling of some truly terrible lines about your despair and fear, that’s ok too. Because your real life project isn’t a book, or your career. Your real life project is yourself, and that’s the fucking hardest project possible, but also the only one that’s truly important.
Q: Hey Katie, I have a question. Ever since I got accepted into grad school, I’ve grown increasingly paranoid, like everything is happening so easy. I haven’t had that ever happen. I feel like there’s a great big blimp of shit hovering over me waiting to explode. I’ve been meditating, but there’s this feeling of impending doom. Have you ever felt this way? If so, what do you do?
A: So…I think it’s pretty damn natural to have that “something bad must be coming” feeling, especially when some important things in your life are going great. I certainly have experienced that. It’s a general feeling–no specific worry, just a sense that everything is doomed and nothing good lasts and really nothing matters at all. I think it’s the natural depression pushing back against the happiness of the good news. That is, we THINK we are depressed/sad because of external things in our lives, and that if this one thing happened or that other thing happened, we’d be happy. But depression isn’t about that–it’s both chemical AND, I believe, a common reaction intelligent people have to the dukkha of everyday life. (Dukkha is a Buddhist term, sort of meaning suffering.)
Which means that, while we want to experience the joy of the good thing, there is a part of us that knows deep down that Western ideas of “happiness” are bullshit; the natural state of human existence is dukkha, which I always think of as “an awareness of the future and the past that makes it impossible to live only in the present moment, and the knowledge that most things in our lives are not in our control.” Popular American/Western thought claims that if good things happen to us, we will be happy. But that’s a fallacy. Are all the rich people you know happy? How about all the successful people? Nope. We ALL live with dukkha. So, for me, the solution is the same with good stuff in my life as it is with bad stuff–breathe, notice how I’m feeling, remember that there is a larger “me” doing the noticing, a “me” that is bigger than and unaffected by the things that happen in this world. An eternal “me,” a me that is part of the stars and the world and other people–maybe a Whitman-type “me.”