The writer’s White Whale.

Don’t call me Ahab.

Remember LiveJournal? I feel like all I did on there was complain my way through middle and high school (and, I admit, college): nobody loves me, nobody cares about me, nobody filled out my seventy-question survey. What a tremendous and melancholy bore I was.

I’m trying really hard not to turn this blog into another emo-shame-spiral of posts, but sometimes being a writer sucks, and it’s just so much more fun to write about sucky things.

I got rejected twice yesterday: in the morning by an awesome job and in the evening by an awesome residency program. Nice bookends to a Tuesday, right? Since I haven’t printed them out yet to add to the pile of rejection letters that any self-respecting/masochistic writer has on her desk, I might as well include them here, in the interest of being green (and my forgetfulness and procrastination):

 
This is a note to say that we made an offer for the “social media job,” and filled it. We’ll be announcing it soon on the blog, but I wanted to give you a heads-up first, as someone who completed the questions.
 
Honestly, almost everyone who applied could have done the job, and most would probably have been excellent. The applicant pool was simply wonderful. The applicants represented many different directions we could take the company. It was hard choosing and–now that it’s done–it feels terrible to “say goodbye” to so many “possibilites” [sic] and so many great people. But we think we made a great choice–two smart and energetic people with diverse experiences. We wish we could hire you all, but two was one more than we thought we’d hire.
 
Thank you again for appling [sic] for the job, and for completing those questions so thoughtfully. One of the first tasks of our new employees is to read many of our favorite answers.
Best,
Tim

For some reason, the glaring typos soften the blow.

Thank you for submitting a Winter/Spring 2014 Fellowship Residency application to Playa. Our review panel found it difficult to select residents from among the many worthy applicants, and I must unfortunately report that you were not among those chosen for a residency at this time.

We are grateful for the time you invested in this process, and truly wish we could offer residencies to everyone that applied. Unless you advise us otherwise, your name and information will be retained so that we can send you news and updates about programs at Playa

I wish you all the best in your creative endeavors.

Sincerely,

Lisa Pounders
Residency Director at Playa

Again: that missing period at the end of Paragraph Two makes me glad I won’t be associating with such heathens this winter. It’s the little things.

Naturally, I was pretty blue by the time the second rejection rolled in around 5:00. But I didn’t beat myself up or feel like I was worthless (which is maybe how I’ve handled these in the past). Instead, all I kept thinking was: when it’s a Yes, it’s going to feel earned, and right.

Because at some point, a decision will come down to me and another person who is equally good, and who knows what minuscule criteria will separate us? And one day, those fickle margins will skew in my favor. And there’s something more than earned or right about that; it’s magical. No wonder writers put themselves through hell. The Yes is intoxicating, addicting, and worth the self-imposed hell. (Or, at least, I hope it is because I don’t really have a backup plan.)

Regarding my last few posts: I think rejection makes me a writer way more than simply “wanting it” does. Because wanting is passive; rejection is the byproduct of action, of risk. These letters aren’t in a pile on my desk to discourage me. They are proof that I tried.

The Yes is my White Whale, and I will keep flailing and failing until I finally get one.

And then I’ll start the whole thing over.

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“Death of an Adjunct” by Daniel Kovalik

“Death of an Adjunct” by Daniel Kovalik

“Of course, what the case-worker didn’t understand was that Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course. Adjuncts now make up well over 50 percent of the faculty at colleges and universities.”

And this is what I was talking about yesterday. If we do what we love and we do it well, we should expect the most basic remuneration: a living wage and human dignity. And universities and other institutions take advantage of the economic situation, letting us beg for scraps and take what we’re given. 

Thanks to Sonya Huber for sharing this.

On wanting it.

This post didn’t start out negative. I swear.

A writer friend of mine recently shared this slideshow that offers tidbits from the collection Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do. In the slideshow were several pearls of wisdom, but Susan Orlean’s quote is what I’d like to address today: 

“Wanting to be a writer is a huge percentage of what makes you be one. You have to want to do it really badly. You have to feel that’s what you’re supposed to be doing.”

That’s sure easy for a published author and New Yorker staff writer to say.

I originally thought this post was going to be about how reassured I felt by Orlean’s words—how I know now that I’m really a writer, because I want it so badly. I thought I was going to talk about how we can’t base our success on how much someone pays for our work.

And then I realized: that’s bullshit. Bullshit that I keep saying, because others keep saying it. So, one poor writer to another, let’s dispense with hollow platitudes for a moment. 

Wanting it isn’t enough sometimes.

The Orlean quote reminded me of a Saturday Night Live sketch from the 2008 election season, when Hillary was officially out of the running and Palin was the VP nominee for the GOP.

Image

FEY AS PALIN: It just goes to show that anyone can be President. …All you have to do is want it.

POEHLER AS CLINTON: (LAUGHS) Yeah, you know, Sarah, looking back, if I could change one thing, I should have wanted it more.

The idea that “all you have to do is want to be a writer and you are one” falls in the same category as “anyone can succeed in America” and “you’re guaranteed a job with a college degree.” They are delusions that people with money keep perpetuating, to the continued frustration of hardworking have-nots: are we not trying hard enough? Do we not want it bad enough?

I know Orlean isn’t saying that “if you want it enough, you’ll be a successful writer and make a boatload of cash.” She’s saying, “if you want it, you already are a writer.” But this means next to nothing in the land of capitalism, household bills, and student loans.

There was a time when writers could make a living for themselves on their talents alone; they didn’t live like royalty, but they got by. But this age of freelancing and adjuncting and the ever-shrinking list of periodicals that publish and pay for original work, especially from emerging writers without a platform, makes that whole “I write for a living” thing seem pretty impossible. Very few places are able (read: willing) to pay writers a living wage, leaving us to piece together a full-time, zero-benefits schedule between community colleges and jobs off Craigslist. And who has the desire to do anything but sleep at the end of that kind of day?

I’m not going to feed you a line of bull that this life is easy or that it even feels worth the trouble every day. Sure, it’s important to believe in yourself. And, yes, even without any viable prospect for a life in which my writing pays for itself, I will continue to write and continue to try. But the longer we deny that money  matters, that being well compensated for our work is as important as the act of creating it is, I don’t see the landscape changing in our favor.

…And in honor of the Ladies of SNL theme: This post was brought to you by Debbie Downer. Womp womp.

debbie

You Should Date An Illiterate Girl

“Nothing less than passion, and perfection, and a life worthy of being storied.”

Damn right.

Thought Catalog

Date a girl who doesn’t read. Find her in the weary squalor of a Midwestern bar. Find her in the smoke, drunken sweat, and varicolored light of an upscale nightclub. Wherever you find her, find her smiling. Make sure that it lingers when the people that are talking to her look away. Engage her with unsentimental trivialities. Use pick-up lines and laugh inwardly. Take her outside when the night overstays its welcome. Ignore the palpable weight of fatigue. Kiss her in the rain under the weak glow of a streetlamp because you’ve seen it in film. Remark at its lack of significance. Take her to your apartment. Dispatch with making love. Fuck her.

Let the anxious contract you’ve unwittingly written evolve slowly and uncomfortably into a relationship. Find shared interests and common ground like sushi, and folk music. Build an impenetrable bastion upon that ground. Make it sacred. Retreat into…

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The write music. #amwriting

I find I often need to get to a place of intense longing or sadness in order to write anything of substance.

Here are a few songs that take me there.

“L’hymne à l’amour” – Edith Piaf

Pretty much anything by Edith works wonders. This one especially.

“If it kills me (Casa Nova Sessions” – Jason Mraz

Unrequited love. If longing runs deeper than that, I don’t wanna know about it.

“Jolene” – CAKE

A genuine jam, a girl taking a chance in the night to break out of her quiet life, out-of-control love. Yeah, yeah.

“Gravity” – John Mayer

I’m usually not a fan, but damn. Keep me where the light is.

“Grey” – Ani DiFranco

…And it’s October 2007 again. (Used only when completely necessary. Knocks the wind out of me for hours.)

What are some of your writing songs?