Tuesday, December 4, 2018

From Noon Until Noon Again

Yesterday I was feeling very blue. It was the kind of blue I knew would pass, but that didn't make me feel less worthless in the moment. This sensation was the result of a variety of things.

I got a handful of rejections all together that were more hurtful than the norm. One was one of those where they don't even send you an email, you just find out when they send the list of winners in the newsletter. I understand that organizations can't be all things to all people, but ugh, what a sucky way to learn that I didn't get picked. I also got two rejections from agents, one of whom I'm pretty sure didn't read my query all the way through based on their reply. My pitches and follow-ups for the past week have mostly not been answered. I didn't get a side job I hoped I'd get. The reading & reviewing - in reality, I've been very productive lately, but it feels like digging at the side of a sand pile. It doesn't look like there's actual progress, or that there ever will be.

Personally: Two friendship-related disappointments hit me in the course of a couple of days. I'm doing a whirlwind east-coast trip this weekend and don't have anything to wear. I signed Matt and myself up for both PreCheck and Global Entry without realizing that we don't need both, and Global Entry is useless for the reason I wanted it, which makes me feel like the management skills on which I pride myself have failed me. The end of the semester is coming and it feels like I fucked up, mostly, instead of helping, at CSUN. I can't manage money at all, not one little bit. Really truly. Can't.

Over the weekend, I went to a few junk shops in Ventura and bought some materials for collaging. I found the most amazing things! Vintage catalogs, magazines, paper doll sets, curious books, even a couple of woodcuts. Back in September, I resolved to make a visual collage at least once every six weeks. I love to collage, even if it's not an art form that I know how to do (like I know how to write). It's a sincere and powerful artistic release for me. But my resolution involved using real materials to collage rather than just catalogs and junk mail, which is how I've been doing it up till now. I expressed it to myself as "put some skin in the game," which means cutting and pasting things that have objective value, materials that once meant something to someone, rather than items that are worthless or easy to reproduce.

I was thinking about Anne Carson's book Nox, which includes collages of family photographs and letters, materials that surely were precious but that she cut up and pasted over and re-made as materials for her art. I couldn't decide if it was...wasteful? a loss? something she'd regret?, but I also found it daring. As I looked at more collage artists' work, I began to wonder if collaging was worthwhile at all unless you collaged something of value. Maybe it depends on what you're trying to do as a collagist.

In any event, I felt sure that I wasn't going to do satisfying work as a collagist, whether I want to make work that others see or not, unless I used materials that intrigued me instead of trash. So I bought some in Ventura over the weekend.

Problem was, when I got home and spread all the materials on the floor to show Matt, they were all so interesting that I was overwhelmed. I didn't know where to start. What if I fucked up, and wasted the materials that I'd spent money on? What if I was wrong about the book I wanted to chop up and use as background? What if I had to throw out real photos from the 1960s? It upset me, because my creativity wanted to be brave, but my heart did not.

All of this was swirling around in me yesterday, Monday. Why couldn't I do anything right? Why was everything so wrong? All my best plans led to flinching and fucking up at the last minute, or to gatekeepers reminding me that, nope, my work isn't that interesting.

At therapy, the plot thickened, in a way that I really can't talk about here.


This morning, I woke up and felt better, mostly because, as I said at the top of this post, my blues were a passing thing. Why-am-I-so-worthless is a refrain that comes and goes in me all the time, but only occasionally can I not just wave it away like a mosquito. Most of the stuff above, this morning's light reminded me, is either not important or it's fixable. The rejections are what they are; being a writer is learning to see rejection as neutral instead of negative. Sometimes they hurt and it takes time to get over them. That's okay, too.

Then, today, a couple of downright exciting acceptances came through, some of them from places I'd despaired over re: their lack of response just 24 hours earlier. (Also some rejections, which felt neutral instead of painful.) My Asim review got some good feedback and mentions. I heard from a friend I've missed for a week or two.

Most importantly, I went for a walk. I wanted to think about the review I need to write before I go to bed tonight, and what I was going to say in it, but instead I found this song banging along with the rhythm of my steps. For some reason, it reminded me of the picture I liked most out of the material I bought in Ventura. I imagined the song title typed in Courier below the picture, all caps, with a period.

The two hands laced together and I had it: a series of collages about songs that get stuck in my head. That was what I needed: a theme! I needed something to collage around. And now I have it.

I'm not saying that all you need to feel better is for things to start going your way. That'd be too easy, and also wrong. It's fortunate that I got a handful of good news on a day when I needed it, but that's just business, just freelancing. What made me feel solidly better was figuring out a direction for my collages. Doing that made me feel like my future as a creative person was not hopeless, which was a much bigger, more amorphous, more deadly feeling than a bunch of disappointing "no"s.

And that figuring-out was just a matter of waiting until my brain made a connection between one thing and another. Not panicking when the answer didn't come right away. Not forcing myself to sit down with scissors and glue. Having patience with the trawler teeth of my mind, feeling sure that they'd dig up answers for me. And...yep, they did.

Sit through your blues and see what's on the other side. You are not worthless. Be patient and true. I'm telling you, but I'm also telling myself.

Out in the world:

This piece about Mystery Science Theater 3000's reboot. I could have written a piece twice this length. I have so much to say about the show. But for now I said this. Got both fantastic, sparkly private feedback and bad public feedback about it.

I interviewed Daisy Johnson, who was nominated for the Booker Prize this year. She was separated from me by a wall of publicists, in terms of our contact with each other, but through it, she seemed lovely. Her book, Everything Under, was surprising. For those who are curious about how I got to interview a Booker Prize nominee: the Rumpus asked me to. I have no helpful secrets for how to make something like that happen.

I reviewed Jabari Asim's terrific book We Can't Breathe for Brevity. I really, really recommend this book. It's short, it's beautifully written, and it's a supremely helpful primer for entrenched racial problems in America.

I reviewed a book I really did not like for the Arts Fuse. The author's international reputation tends to indicate I am wrong about it, but I challenge you to read the book and then get back to me about how. I even have a copy, if you want it.

Pleiades published a three-minute review I wrote of Maya Sonenberg's chapbook for PANK. I wrote another one for another PANK chapbook that's forthcoming.

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