On Rejection

Earlier in the spring I made a small pact with myself that I would be just as open with my rejections as I would with my successes. I think that failure is a rather abstract, personal thing, and we don't talk about it enough. It's like sex in that way. We mention it, in passing, but it makes us uncomfortable. But when we experience it for ourselves, we suddenly wish we knew how the rest of the world actually felt about it.

I think I've mentioned on here, perhaps a few months back, that I took the Foreign Service exam for the second time. Both times I have passed the written exam. This time around I took more care with the new written portion of the application process, including all my references from my internship at State. This morning, I received my second rejection letter:

Gotta love form letters. 
I check my email in bed when I wake up. So I rolled over at noon this morning and found this in my inbox. I've been waiting on the results for months.

I'm sharing this in the spirit of openness where it comes to rejection. This past week I watched a graduation speaker, and it occurred to me that I had listened to several graduation speakers who spoke about their successes, which came with "set-backs" and I've been told to "don't be afraid to fail."

When you're staring up at a success story, especially in the creative industries, failure feels a little distant. There's a reason failure feels lonely. When we're reading, we're reading winners, and when we hear about winners—well, we don't hear from people during the set-backs when they weren't afraid to fail. And in the back of our minds when we're staring up at the success story, like a creeping stain in the corner of a room, we know that there's an awful lot of people who gave up and went home, and something could go wrong and we could end up accountants. Hell, I could end up an accountant.

Actually, I could never end up an accountant. I have trouble with basic math.

When an author or singer or anyone really finally makes it, it seems like they have sprung fully formed into success. Then they sometimes give graduation speeches with nods to that "hard time," but it's so abstract that there's no real truth to it because you're not afraid yet. Because you'll get through the set-backs because you're the hero of your own story. All pretty abstract things, but when you're standing at a pulpit and people are wearing robes and box hats, the world is pretty abstract.

I gave you a screenshot of a rejection letter. I'm not going to be abstract.

I also have trouble being completely abstract because as a storyteller, I love small details. It means that Chirikai fidgets with Kouji's hair and Mogasa rubs his wrist. I like to tell a story with small details because my life feels like a series of small details. I ate vindaloo on top of spaghetti this morning and wandered around campus until I finally decided to write in a sushi restaurant where I ordered two milk teas with bolba in succession as I wrote 4K of Mogasa's invasion of the hiwau's capital and Funako's rescue mission. Then I came home, ate vindaloo spaghetti again, positive that an Indian chef somewhere felt a disturbance in the force, and I Skyped with a friend about Life and just opening a tea shop. We discussed logistics.

The small details, especially when you pile them up, are more accurate and more intimate. When I had a stint on OKC, I noticed that people were happy to apply broad, sweeping adjectives to themselves—free spirit, laid back, motivated, happy, just doing my best to live—but I really wanted someone to just sit down and rattle off their vindaloo spaghetti days. Or their oatmeal and went to work day. One man said he thought a bookstore would be a great place for a first date, and even though he ran a production company, he didn't own a television. (We wouldn't have suited for multiple reasons, but I appreciated the details anyway. Maybe I should've asked him out anyway. Anyway.)

So, I thought I'd talk about rejection in the small details. I woke up and checked my email on my phone, like I do every morning (or in this case, afternoon. I was up till 5AM thesis-ing). It took me a few seconds to process that it was indeed a rejection email and what it was about at all. My brain has been filled with my MA thesis work, with little bits of P+FD slipping in when I start to daydream. I knew I'd hear back from State before the end of the month, but it had slipped my mind for a few days.

I've been planning cautiously around this acceptance-rejection, deciding if I would live in LA or where I'd be sent, avoiding buying new kitchen utensils... I had told myself that if I didn't get it, I would stay in Los Angeles and make a go of writing, whether that be for the screen or novels. But writing is unstable—a scary profession that does not guarantee money. Would people buy things I write?

All that aside, I interned at the Japan Embassy in DC, and then the next summer at State, both unpaid, but I had assumed the experience and recommendations would be enough for a job. I received a fellowship from State for overseas study last summer, and I thought that if I bolstered my application, I would get a job at an awesome place where I had enjoyed the work.

I had bet two, maybe three summers on an acceptance. Even though there are many reasons for my rejection, it still causes this hollow feeling in my chest. A weird sort of exhaustion. I had known that my chances were slim, so it wasn't a shock, but sometimes when you see failure or rejection coming, it still manages to hurt.

I wasn't in tears. It's more that I feel hardened.

I have cried over rejections. Applying to college sucked, and now I've attended at the turn of the 2010s, I know that I shouldn't have been so upset over the crap shoot. Actually, while we're here, I'll be open on the college rejections: Harvard, Yale, Brown, Middlebury, and UVA. Brown, UVA, and Middlebury would have been mistakes for my research. So, thanks guys. Really. Harvard and Yale, well, I just shrug now. Neither would have been a fraction as good for screenwriting. Oh, right, and Princeton. That's Princeton's loss, I suppose.

But today's sort of rejection wasn't the college sort. I think I've been mentally setting myself up for rejections because I'm going to be cleaning up P+FD and sending it to agents, and the publishing reject process is legendary. My body is ready. Or something. I've got walls.

I rolled out of bed, forwarded my rejection email to my parents and took a shower. Then I ate my vindaloo spaghetti and read my mother's response:

Which, for some reason, made me happy and sad at the same time. I finished my spaghetti. Then I decided that I couldn't work on my thesis and wandered off to write P+FD. Afterwards I resolved to write this blog post, announcing that I would share rejections. I think it's a good thing to do. I think one day, I'll have a good letter to share and someone will pay me something for my writing, but I want to be honest. For me, honesty is in the small details. 

Here's to a small detail.