A Quick Note on Hopeful Rejection

I received another rejection letter last week. However, I do not write to you today from a place of despair, but instead hope.

Out of 848 submissions, my book made it to the final round. The words “we want to encourage you” appear in the rejection letter. And you know what? I am encouraged.

These rejections do not define me, even when it feels as if they do. It’s so easy to focus on the one moment and fail to put it in context. I’ve gotten several rejections in this lifetime, but I’ve received several acceptances too, some key important acceptances. Rejections are like the rain and acceptances are the sunshine. We need both for growth.

Writing as an Offering

Coming to the blank page is like an offering to myself. Not quite sacrifice or sacrament. But how I say thank you to myself. God did not design me to be stuck in front of these screens wasting time. I was built for so much more, and it’s time for me to start walking in it.

And here I am. Crafting words and sharing them with you.

All efforts of writing won’t be spectacular, but I can come to the page; I always have something to offer to the page, and that’s an important reminder. It’s the journey, the process, that matters, and that is what I need to remember. In the midst of everyday, I have time to write something. To do a quick freewrite with my students, to write in my journal, to revise one line of poetry or one paragraph of a story. Those are victories too. And should be celebrated.

The art of not being too hard on myself and simultaneously holding myself accountable is hard to master. But I will keep trying everyday. I will keep coming to the blank page.

What Follows Rejection

“Fear of rejection is so deep that many times we just don’t try.” That’s what my husband said to me after I told him about yet another rejection. At least I put myself out there. It’s something. It’s a start.

The same day I jotted the Quick Note on Rejection, I received an email that evening. An affirming email. A Broadcast Journalism student at USC saw my poem at The Art of Being: Woman Exhibit at the Richland Library downtown and wanted to interview me about my poem. Yes. I have a poem, my words are on display at the library. It was the reminder I needed.

A couple of weeks ago Brittany M. Watkins, a visual artist who was visiting the library for a project, invoked my name in an Instagram story post: “Jennifer Bartell, wherever you are, thank you for your poetry. I am certain that it has helped so many and will continue to do so.” Her message made me think of how the poem must have impacted others who saw the exhibit; perhaps my words buoyed them up. This ultimately is why I write.

This is what follows rejection: reminders of my purpose as a writer and motivation to continue writing.

The closing reception for the The Art of Being: Woman Exhibit is Friday, April 8 at the Main Richland Library in downtown Columbia. If you are in the area, please join me and the other artists as we celebrate and speak about our work. The last day to visit the exhibit is April 15.

A Quick Note on Rejection

What I am doing here is writing myself out of despair. Or attempting to anyhow. My book I am trying to publish has been rejected for the third time in two weeks. I’m disappointed. I’m disheartened. I’m disappointed. And questioning my value as a writer. Am I good enough? Am I worthy? Of course the answer to those questions is yes. I know that. I’m just not feeling it right now.

I don’t write this for pity. I don’t write this to wallow in the rejection either. I write it to connect with others who have felt or are feeling what I feel right now. I want to tell you that there is hope, that it will all be okay. But honestly I do not believe that right now. I may believe it tomorrow but not in this today. And I need to sit with that for a spell before I move on. This is something I want to normalize for myself. Admitting when I’m not okay so that I can move through it.

That is correct. There is no hope in this story today. I show off my wins, but not my losses—and, baby, I got the losses! This is my attempt to be transparent with myself. An accounting, a reckoning, a report of my progress, or lack thereof.

Perhaps tomorrow will be better. After all, I did come to the page today.

Finding My Parents

I lost my mother when I was 23. I lost my father when I was 28. I spent the majority of my 20s trying not to lose my mind. I’m not sure if I succeeded or not. But I made it out of my twenties without any serious self-harm incidents or suicide attempts, a trend I have continued. I count this as victory.

But I didn’t lose my parents in my 20s. I find them everyday. Or rather they find me.

When I put on my clothes in the morning I hear Ma say, “Put on some earrings to frame your face.” And I do. Put on my earrings. Because she told me so. When I get ready for church I hear her chiding me for not wearing stockings with my dress. And I don’t put those stockings on. I hate stockings, especially in the summer time.

Like most depressed folks, I ate my feelings.

The recipe book of my mother’s recipes sits with my other recipe books. My brother consults it often as he keeps with my mother’s tradition of two-meat Sundays. Fried chicken and pot roast or ribs and turkey wings that complimented the macaroni and cheese, string beans, roll, and the sure rice. He’s a better cook than I am. I guess this is what happens when both of your parents were amazing cooks. In my family you either sit and eat or you cook then sit and eat. Most of us do the latter.

My brother and I talk about the seasoning he puts on his collard greens or how he got that pot roast to be so tender. And sometimes he makes my mother’s famous smothered chicken, which she called Company Chicken. It is so good that even company could eat it.

The euphemism of “losing a loved one” is so sweet, so simple. But in reality they are dead and there’s nothing sweet or simple about that. I can hear my grandma’s sure, steady voice say, “For everything you love, you’ll lose it somehow.” That’s a century of wisdom talking there. A voice I lost exactly 7 days after I turned 30 years old.

When my father died, before fall break my first semester at an MFA program, I took two weeks off and took my ass back to campus. I could hear my father saying, “Don’t let me be your excuse. Don’t blame me for not going back to school!” When I walked across that stage, it was hard to think that he was with me at the beginning of my studies, but wasn’t there at the end.

I try hard not to forget what their faces look like and remember their words like my father on the other end of the phone when I was in college, asking me if I had eaten or the way he would look back at me when I asked him for advice on some major life decisions. His response always was, “I don’t know, Jenni. What do you think?” This was one of the most aggravating aspects of my father. How he would always ultimately leave my major life decisions up to me, offering not even one shred of advice on how I should proceed. Letting me live my life. Refusing to suppress me with his opinion.

I can’t say that each year gets easier or harder. Life just goes on and I get accustomed to not having them here. “You never get over the death of a loved one,” Ma always said when somebody died. “You just learn how to live your life without them in it.” And that’s what happens. You go on living and you find them in the simplest of tasks like when you cook one of their well-loved dishes or see a little girl in pig tails attached to her mother’s hip in the supermarket. You find them in your nephew’s mischievous smile. You find them in your son’s eyes.

I imagine how much more they could have given had they lived longer. I imagine all of the conversations I lost, all of the goodbyes and hellos, the cookouts and dinner celebrations, all of the two-meat Sundays. But more than the bounds of my imagination, I focus on the glorious memories, the ones I’ve been replaying for years.

I’ve lost much in a short period of time. But I have so much more to find.