The first (of many).

I got rejected today.

Back in December, I applied for a couple of long-term writing residencies/fellowships. I heard from Phillips Exeter Academy today, which was the one I really, really wanted, since it was an ideal setup for me and my family. I guess they received over 300 submissions this year; that’s twice the number I’d anticipated. I was hoping to at least get short-listed. No dice there, either. 

Of course I’m sad about it. While part of me knew I wouldn’t get it my first time out, the rest of me was quite hopeful, right up to the moment earlier today when I dropped everything I was carrying and tore open the letter, on the sidewalk in front of my house. But I know that rejections are as much a part of this writing life as the acceptances and publications; after all, how can we ever improve if we are accepted every time we submit?

Today I got my first rejection letter; it means I’m working. It means I’m trying to be better. It means I’m sending out pieces of myself to be judged. And that’s brave. To the first of many, and to my new motto:

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Writing makes you crazy.

I’d go so far as to say that it makes you “bipolar,” but that word is so misused these days–and probably over-diagnosed–that I’ll refrain.

Suffice it to say that writing makes me feel insane.

Or, maybe it’s not the writing. Maybe it’s the whole sending-large-pieces-of-myself-through-the-mail-to-be-judged thing that splits me in two. Yeah, it’s most definitely that thing.

Recently, I put a lot of my work in the mail–my completed thesis off for binding and writing samples for two fellowships. Sending my thesis didn’t bother me. Two professors have signed off saying it’s MFA-quality work; it’s done. No, it was the packets for Phillips Exeter Academy and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown that have created the war in my mind.

These are pretty much the only two long-term fellowships available to writers that I could find. They are both nine-month residencies that would pay me to finish my book and maybe make myself available to the community as an artist. That’s right. These are rare, beautiful opportunities in the world of writing. I couldn’t not apply, even though I was up to my ears in thesis edits.

Now that the samples are off, I keep thinking about the incredible gift these programs offer–the gift of TIME–and the stipends and the perks…and I freak. I think about the unicorn-esque nature of these two fellowships and my mind reels; thousands must apply, and they only take one fiction writer. There’s no way, I tell myself. There’s just no way. Prepare for the worst.

And then, and then. Just as I come to grips and try to let go, something in me fights back. But it’s good, I say. It’s really good. It could be the best. No: it is the best. There is this surge of confidence, and I understand that, of course, both fellowships will choose me. Of course they will. The battle is on, and my stomach gets all roller-coastery as I vacillate between unchecked confidence and complete despair.

And all of this happens as I sit in my bed, reading short stories. Certifiable.